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Remembering Jazz Advocate Ginny Coleman

Buddy Anderson Collection, LaBudde Special Collections
Miller Nichols Library

Virginia "Ginny" Coleman, the co-host of Just Jazz on KCUR, died on Thursday, March 6. She was 91. 

Just Jazz was a staple of KCUR's lineup for 23 years, most recently on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. The final broadcast was in October 2005.

Playing the music they loved

Ginny Coleman, with her trademark jet-black hair and brightly painted nails, co-hosted Just Jazz with vocalist and trumpeter Ruth Rhoden, who passed away in 2010. As kcjazzlark described it on his blog, "They were two jazz fans who played the music they loved."

Credit Buddy Anderson Collection, LaBudde Special Collections / Miller Nichols Library
Miller Nichols Library
Ginny Coleman (right) with a KCUR volunteer.

The theme song and opening to 'Just Jazz,' 1999.

Straight-ahead jazz or "music that swings" was featured on Just Jazz, as well as interviews highlighting Kansas City musicians, such as Mike Ning, Kim Park, Tommy Ruskin, Gary Sivils and Marilyn Maye. They also announced area jazz jams, festivals, and performances.

According to the music blog Happy In Bag, "Ginny and Ruth's show was the region's most important forum for the jazz community."

Musician Everett DeVan, who performed the Just Jazz theme song, told KCUR in 2010 that the hosts "were very much in synch as far as the radio show and presenting different music from that era."

But as alike as their musical tastes were, their contrasting personalities were revealed during their colorful on-air banter.

"Let's say, Ginny was a little more detail minded," said DeVan. "And Ruth, kind of, as great as she was, she knew all kinds of stuff, she kind of flew by the seat of her pants, as you might say."

A "jazz celebrity" and a promoter of jazz

In the early 1980s, Mayor Richard Berkley created a Jazz Commission in Kansas City to support local music. Coleman was part of this commission, and its efforts led to a series of pub crawls. The Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, an organization promoting jazz, was also created around this time.

Coleman also updated a local jazz hotline, 816-753-JASS, with upcoming events and performances. And, along with Mike Ning, Sherry Jones, and the late Jim Monroe, she started a concert series called the Kansas City Jazz Workshop.

For years, up until she lost her vision when she was in her early 80s, Coleman kept a brisk pace, attending jazz jams and performances in the Kansas City metro and in Topeka, Kan.

"She was a jazz celebrity in Kansas City. People knew when Ginny was in the house," recalled musician David Basse. "And you played swinging' music when she was around because you didn't want her to say something about the music you were playing."

"We both loved Ginny Coleman so much," said vocalist Julie Turner, who's married to drummer Tommy Ruskin. "She was such a friend to the jazz community."

She's survived by her daughter, Carole Lightner and her husband, Terry; son, Dean Montleon; and granddaughter, Kristi Beachner.

A celebration of Coleman's life, featuring the jazz music she enjoyed, is in the works. Details have not yet been announced.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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