Remembering Jazz Expert Oscar Treadwell, Who Died In 2006

Mar 30, 2016

Oscar Treadwell
Credit WVXU

You just know that jazz expert Oscar Treadwell is smiling on Cincinnati.

Ten years after his death, his adopted hometown provides the background for a major motion picture about jazz icon Miles Davis, Don Cheadle’s new "Miles Ahead."

Treadwell, who died on April 1, 2006, at age 79, was the jazz voice and conscience for Cincinnati for 46 years.  

If a Miles Davis tune was heard on radio here, most likely it was on Treadwell's shows on WVXU-FM, WNOP-AM, WGUC-FM, WVAE-FM or WZIP-AM. In fact, "O.T." is such an institution that his shows are still on the air here at WVXU-FM 10 p.m.-midnight Sunday.

In his time slot Sunday, WVXU-FM will repeat Lee Hay's two-hour tribute to O.T. which aired after his death.

Treadwell was a class act. I never met a more gracious gentleman. Every time we'd talk, he'd surprise me with a story about an encounter with a jazz greats. He made me feel special that I had met Duke Ellington at Ohio University on his final tour in 1974. But O.T. had met ALL of the jazz giants, and three wrote theme songs for him! And Louie Armstrong gave him his radio name!

To me, the most amazing aspect of Treadwell was his extraordinary double life. By day, he was cutting tools salesman Arthur Pederson from Anderson Township. At night on radio, he was O.T., playing jazz, reading poetry, and telling wonderful stories about jazz stars from the basement studio of his home.  He modestly told about his personal experiences with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk.

Armstrong inspired his radio name. While working at a Reading, Pa., station in 1947, Pederson introduced Armstrong at a concert. Louie looked at him and said, "Thank you, Oscar!"

Treadwell told me years later: "I was upset about it at first. I walked off the stage and said, 'I just met him, and he couldn’t remember my name?' But I began to think about it and said to myself, 'If I ever have a jazz show, I'll be Oscar somebody. I picked 'Treadwell' out of the air."

In 1949, sax player Charlie Parker recorded "An Oscar for Treadwell" with Gillespie, Monk and drummer Buddy Rich. Wardell Gray, another sax player, recorded "Treadin' with Treadwell" in 1950s. Pianist Monk sent him "Oska T." in 1955.

After an absence from radio, Cincinnati's jazz master returned to the airwaves on WVXU-FM in  August of 2005, after Cincinnati Public Radio acquired the station from Xavier University. He died seven months later. The family gave WVXU-FM permission to play tapes of his shows, which were restored by producer Bruce Ellis and archived here on our website.

Treadwell was a mentor to Hay,  who produced the two-hour tribute repeating 10 p.m. Sunday.

Lee Hay
Credit WVXU0FM

"Oscar Treadwell….jazz and radio legend.  But also a wonderful poet and teacher.  I'm still hearing from his jazz fans who attended his classes to hear him talk about jazz.  I miss him, even though he's still on WVXU/WMUB Sunday evenings.

"I miss hearing him share new jazz recordings and spin stories about the jazz greats he knew.  I wonder what he'd say about the Miles Davis film, 'Miles Ahead,' and the one about Chet Baker, 'Born to be Blue.'  I wonder what local jazz players he might play on his jazz shows.  I miss calling him and asking his opinion on some jazz radio thing.

"When I started in jazz radio back in the late 1970's, he was so supportive.  He was my mentor.  Being in the same room with him, somehow changed you and elevated those around him with the desire to learn more about jazz.  He was so positive, and it was easy to tell that he loved jazz and poetry and was happy to share his thoughts with you.  A jazz giant indeed who can never be replaced."

Here's a description of Sunday's tribute:

WVXU/WMUB will rebroadcast a two-hour tribute in honor of the 10th anniversary of the late Oscar Treadwell on Sunday, April 3, at 10 p.m.  During the tribute produced by Lee Hay in 2006, listeners will be treated to excerpts from some of OT’s jazz programs including songs by local and national musicians, poetry readings, and tributes from some of his friends and fans.

The first hour of "A Tribute to Oscar Treadwell" will feature tributes by Larry Nager, music historian; Ann Santen, former WGUC General Manager; jazz pianist Steve Schmidt; jazz vocalist Kathy Wade; jazz producer David Delegator; John Leon, jazz sculptor; poet Jerry Judge; radio producer John Sutton; WGUC producer Mark Perzel; jazz producer Tony Jackson; Lynn Seaton, jazz bassist and faculty member at North Texas State; Ron Esposito, jazz producer & concert promoter; Jim Tarbell, owner of the original Ludlow Garage; and finally from the Faux Frenchmen, George Cunningham and Brian Lovely.

Listeners will be delighted to hear OT introducing various recordings heard on some of his jazz radio programs like the Cincinnati Jazz Quartet, Steve Schmidt, Charles Mingus, Cat City, Eric Friedlander, and Pigmeat Jarrett.  OT also shares poetry written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jerry Judge, and Gu Cheng.

The second hour of "A Tribute to Oscar Treadwell" focuses on a studio roundtable of his friends paying homage to his legacy: jazz producer Robyn Carey-Allgeyer; Bob Nave, jazz musician; Cliff Radel, music critic; jazz bassist Jim Anderson;  and Phil deGreg, retired CCM jazz faculty member and jazz pianist.  There are more excerpts from OT’s radio programs including a Thomas Merton poem and music from Art Blakey, George Russell, and others.

After the roundtable discussion in hour two, Saad Ghosn, publisher/editor of the annual Peace & Justice poetry publication, shares a story about OT’s poetry submissions right before his passing.  And the program ends with OT reading from one of his favorite poets, Kenneth Patchen, and touching comments by one of Oscar Treadwell’s daughters.