Dirt: Ducking the algorithm with KJazz

Take a trip through forgotten LA with smooth jazz radio

Dirt is a daily email about entertainment.

Matthew Specktor on the joys of music not picked by a machine.

Every afternoon when I take my dog for a walk, I step into another world. That world, which is a steep mile-and-a-half drive up one of LA’s many canyons — a drive I take to escape the other walkers who crowd West Hollywood, and to put a little space between my writing day and the rest of it — is not just another neighborhood but seems to exist on another temporal plane. The Trousdale Estates were built in the 1950s, designed by architects like Wallace Neff and Frank Lloyd Wright. Many of its midcentury residents were exactly the people you’d expect would have resided in such a secluded and meticulously engineered enclave: Elvis, Sinatra, Dean Martin. My wife and I developed our obsession with Trousdale on the basis of a single line from Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of The Long Goodbye, in which the malignant — and yet oddly wonderful —gangster Marty Augustine brags, “I live in Trousdale. Three acres. Across the street from President Nixon. I take tennis lessons three times a week on my own private court.”

Who among us would not be seduced by Marty’s weird, materialist poetry, particularly offered as prelude to asking Elliott Gould to punch him in the stomach? And yet — I have never known anyone other than Marty to visit Trousdale, let alone to live in it. Its famous residents are gone now, and the neighborhood has a mausoleum quality. The houses are gorgeous, but slightly decrepit; some of them have verdigrised statues of lions or jockeys on their lawns. Who lives here? I can’t help but think that President Nixon — dead or no — still does.

To get to Trousdale requires a transition, and that transition is eased by tuning the radio to KJazz 88.1. Like everyone who works at home and many who don’t, I listen to music constantly, which means I’m at the mercy of the algorithm all day; I’m at its mercy too — as we all are — when I open my browser, visit YouTube, use TikTok, scroll my feeds. My own taste—or my own history, which is not the same—is fed back to me in the form of an imago: This Is What You Like. K-Jazz, by contrast, is helmed in the afternoon by Steve Tyrell, about whom I don’t know the first thing. But I labor under the impression that he has always been there: that his DJ booth smells like menthol cigarettes, and that there is a Members Only jacket draped over the back of his chair. Presumably, he doesn’t live in Trousdale — he can’t afford to — but his voice pours out to console all the Marty Augustines who do, and when he leaves to go God knows where (his replacement, Gary “The Wagman” Wagner, sounds the same, but plays blues instead of jazz) he fills his Pontiac Grand-Am with the same music with which he soothes me: Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Chick Correa. I am under no illusion that Tyrell’s choices are his choices, exactly: they belong to corporate sponsors, on-air promotions, lists that have been approved for airplay. And yet they are consoling because they are not mine or a machine’s either. Unlike a Mixcloud, they are prefaced and interrupted by a human’s enthusiasm, his moods and hesitations, and they feel like they are made in private, for pleasure. It’s surprising what a difference this makes. You can find Tyrell on the internet too (sigh), and while he won’t drive you to Trousdale, might help you see the world through amber-tinted lenses, at least for a while. — By Matthew Specktor

The Dirt: Damn, that’s smooth.