Hard Choices explores the sub-genre of jazz known as hard bop with music from the ‘50s and ‘60s, featuring legendary bands, master composers, rare gems and contemporary and folk jazz influenced by this prestigious era. We caught up with the show’s host, Mark Montesano, to learn more about the man behind the mic.
How did you first get into radio?
KMHD is my first radio gig and I started January of 2016. I’ve been an avid jazz fan since the early ‘60s. Long time. After I moved to Portland, August of 2015, I was telling a friend of mine who volunteers at OPB about a class I taught called “Listening to the History of Jazz: The First 50 Years” at Arizona State University. She said she thought that it might make a good radio program. She passed the word on to a director at OPB, who gave it to [KMHD Program Director] Matt Fleeger, who called me in to talk about it. Matt and I had a long, fun conversation about our love of jazz. Two months later the host of Hard Choices left and Matt asked me, considering my love of hard bop, if I would be interested in being a host. I jumped at the chance. It’s been fun!
What would surprise people most about what you do in your personal life?
For those who know me it wouldn’t be much of a surprise. I’ve been retired from teaching for about two years now, but I run a weekly philosophy reading group where we read philosophers from the Continental European tradition. Keeps my teaching chops up. It’s addicting.
When you aren’t listening to the music you play on KMHD what are you tuned into?
I go on listening binges depending on what I’ve discovered that really catches my ear and presents something unfamiliar. My younger relatives and ex-students are always turning me on to new music. That could range from Brazilian to salsa to hip-hop to old school R&B and funk, to 20th century chamber music, especially composers like Debussy, Messaien, Berio, Takemitsu, Prokofiev, etc.
Tell us about an interesting hobby you have.
Besides being a DJ at KMHD, I finally bought an alto flute that I’ve coveted for years. I love the deep, rich sound and I play that when I can – jamming with others or just playing at home along with records or with Oliver Nelson’s “Patterns for Saxophone” or my favorite ballads. It’s a joy!
Where do you live and what are some of your favorite neighborhood spots?
I just moved to North Portland, what’s called “University Park” or “Portsmouth.” We like to go into Kenton. Smith and Union is a great place for brunch. Up Lombard is an Italian restaurant, or The Fisher’s Wife is a decent place for basic seafood.
If you could bring someone back to life from jazz history and hang out with them for an afternoon, who would it be and why?
Miles Davis. There are all kinds of stories of what a jerk he could be, but also what a beautiful and wise person he was and how much people learned from him. He was such a complex person that I’d want to see for myself. I’d want to talk with him about experiences he had in jazz during his entire career, from the early ‘40s until he died in the early ‘90s – and his stories about other jazz greats like Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, Monk, Billie Holiday, Cannonball, etc., or Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Prince and what he learned from his amazing life.