Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Session (Carbondale)

The Session, one of the first nationally televised music programs to feature up-and-coming artists, was filmed and produced by WSIU-TV (Channel 8) in Carbondale, Illinois. 

The half-hour show aired weekly on PBS stations across the country between 1971 and 1973.

It featured primarily rock, jazz and folk groups from downstate Illinois.  On occasion the show presented new artists from around the country, including a young "Piano Man" from New York.

The Session was the brainchild of Bruce Scafe, WSIU's television producer at the time.  Scafe was an Aurora, Illinois native that held a bachelor's degree in music and a master's in radio-television from the University of Illinois.  Before being hired at WSIU in 1970, Scafe played trumpet for two years in Les Elgart's band.  The Session was a natural marriage of Scafe's two main interests.

Between August 1971 and August 1972, Scafe directed and produced 67 shows in the series.  All of the camera and audio crew were students at Southern Illinois University.   Hosts of the show included London Branch and David Langdon. 

Initially the program was broadcast in Carbondale and re-shown on public television networks around the Midwest.  By early 1973, PBS picked 17 programs to broadcast nationally.  Before they aired however, Scafe left WSIU for a television job in Texas.

When asked about the show in 1973 for a syndicated article promoting the program, Scafe said, "We only had two cameras available.   It would have looked great if we had three.  I look at the program now and I find a lot that's lacking."  He added, "But we did the best we could and I think we actually pulled off miracles with the equipment we had."  

A year later Scafe went on to help create another music show for public television, now the longest-running music program in television history, Austin City Limits.

The Session - Performers (with original listing info):

The Session featured a number of rock, jazz and folk groups from the burgeoning music scenes of Champaign-Urbana:

  • REO Speedwagon
  • Head East - "who make use of their Moog-Synthesizer"
  • Mike Murphy & The One Eyed Jacks   - "play rock and roll"
  • The Finchley Boys - "a rock group perform with an electric violin"
  • The All Star Frogs 
  • Coalkitchen
  • Sunday - "group combines hard rock and jazz music"
  • The Ship - "a performance of the folk-rock opera"
  • Rocky Maffit - "composer-lyricist-singer-guitarist"
  • James Barton & Friends - "sing his original folk songs"
  • Ron Bridgewater Quartet - "perform 'Naima' and 'Arman,' characterizes its music as the black man's experience through jazz"
As well as rock and jazz musicians from the St. Louis / Metro East area:
  • Jake Jones - "a rock band whose instruments include a mellotron"
  • Ed Jenny - "sings excerpts from his three rock operas"
  • Spoonriver Band - "combining rock 'n' roll and soul"
  • Magna Crunch - "a six man rock band that blends rock and jazz with choreography and unique musical instruments"
  • Oliver Lake & Black Artist Group (BAG)
  • St. Louis Jazz Quartet
Occasionally the show featured up-and-coming national / international acts:
  • Billy Joel & Friends - "play 'Captain Jack' and other songs"
  • Brownsville Station - "from Ann Arbor, Michigan"
  • Ray Burton & Gino Cunico - "Australian folk rock duo"
  • Fanny - "all girl rock quartet"
Others musicians and groups featured:
  • Frank Bellino - "plays the viola d'amore"
  • London Branch Quartet 
  • Don Brown & The Ozark Mountain Trio
  • Olive Brown - "blues singer"
  • The Country Sounds
  • Rich Crandall Trio - "a contemporary jazz-rock group"
  • Don Crawford - "performs his own music, who is adept at six and 12-string guitars"
  • Dub Crouch, Norman Ford and the Bluegrass Rounders - "group from St. Louis has been playing together for 15 years"
  • Diamond Rio
  • David Earl - "composer-singer peforms his own work.  Puts his poetry to music"
  • Ron Elliston Trio - "all three (Fred Atwood, bass; Chuck Braugham, drums; and Ron Elliston on piano) are members of the renowned University of Illinois Jazz Band"
  • Equinox
  • Gand Family Singers - "Bob Gand and his daughter Gale and son Gary are joined by Joan Berstein in a performance of traditional American folk songs"
  • Gerry Grossman - "rock singer, composer and guitarist performs "When She Smiled" and others"
  • The Group - "a small jazz trio"
  • John Hicks Quartet - "jazz pianist"
  • Vince Huffman Quartet
  • The Illinois Quartet - "works by Will Gay Bottje"
  • The Jazz Progressions
  • Corey Jones - "guitarist plays folk-rock and bluegrass"
  • Oliver Lake & His Black Artist Group
  • Dalphene McAdory - "sings in a small nightclub atmosphere"
  • Oldfield, Branch & Company - "jazz trios"
  • Kay Pace & The Inspirational Wonders - "gospel singers from Freewill Baptist Church, Carbondale"
  • Bob Rembke - "folk-rock guitarist and comedian presents his own works and some by Bob Dylan"
  • The Riverfront Ragtimers - "features Jean Kittrel on piano, Don Frantz on banjo and Don Summers on tuba"
  • The Singing Sphinx - "combine with barbershoppers from Herrin, Illinois"
  • SIU Baroque Ensemble - "performs Bach, Handel"
  • SIU Faculty Brass Quintet
  • Stanton, Sullivan & Riley - "freedom and intense involvement are the cornerstone of this group, a folk trio from Carbondale, Illinois"
Very little footage of this series is in circulation although the American Archive of Public Broadcasting appears to have tapes of most of the programs in their collection.  A few shows however can be found on YouTube:





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