There Was No Jazz on TV, So He Started His Own Show : John Sterling’s public-access program, which can be seen on four cable systems in Southern California, as well as in New York and Boston, features top performers.


Here’s a twist: John Sterling, a staunch rock ‘n’ roller who has played guitar, written tunes and produced albums for such names as Eric Burdon and Arthur Lee, uses all his spare cash to produce . . . drum roll, please . . . jazz TV programs.

Sterling is the man behind “The Jazz Network,” a public-access cable show that has been running on the Los Angeles airwaves since 1991.

“I have been in love with jazz since I was 18, and when I tried to find it on TV then, there was hardly any,” said Sterling, a native of Boston who has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years. “So I thought that the only way I’d see jazz on TV was to do my own show. And I’ve had that dream ever since.”


Sterling’s half-hour programs, which can be seen on four cable systems in Southern California, as well as in New York City and Boston, have spotlighted such jazz heavyweights as pianists Chick Corea and Billy Childs, trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis, guitarists John Scofield and Al DiMeola and drummers Tony Williams and Billy Cobham.

Lyle Mays appears on Monday’s broadcast. The pianist, acclaimed for his work with guitarist Pat Metheny, is seen in performance at the Strand in Redondo Beach. Performing with his quartet--Bob Sheppard, saxes, Marc Johnson, bass and Mark Walker, drums--Mays plays two pieces drawn from his new “Fictonary” Geffen Records release.

Mays was also interviewed by KTWV-FM radio personality Talaya Trigueros, who has hosted many of the past broadcasts. “Lyle commented on how so many people perceive him to be a synthesizer player, since he’s used electronic instruments with Metheny. But he said that he’s always been an acoustic pianist, and has never soloed on any other instrument,” said Sterling of the interview.

The episode can be seen at 10 p.m. on Century Cable (Channel 3, except in Beverly Hills, which is Channel 65) and United Artists Cable (Channel 25) and at 8 p.m. on Continental Cablevision (Channel 37) and West Valley Cablevision (Channel 27). Sterling said that by the end of June, all programs on all four systems will air at 10 p.m.

“The Jazz Network” is a “labor of love,” said Sterling, whose artists donate their services, and who uses volunteers to man the recording equipment but pays for the tape and occasional equipment rentals out of pocket. “I really can’t afford it,” said Sterling, “but I feel it’s something that needs to be done. It’s my contribution to society, my way of giving.”

Sterling, who also has written rock-based soundtracks for such films as “Under the Gun,” starring Vanessa Williams, and “Back in the U.S.A.,” with Judge Reinhold and Ken Wald, started doing “The Jazz Network” as an offshoot of his production of some public-access sports telecasts.


In 1990, he had written music for routines for Alexandra Feldman, who was the national champion rhythmic gymnast. The next year, he also produced coverage of the L.A. Lights Invitational, a rhythmic gymnastic competition, and arranged to have the footage aired on Continental Cablevision.

“From that experience, I thought, ‘Why not do this TV show I’ve always wanted to do?’ ” Sterling recalled. He acquired a slot on Continental’s public-access channel and in April, 1991, recorded guitarist Rick Zunigar in the cable system’s production studio. Buster Jones, formerly of KUTE-FM and currently the off-camera announcer on the Bill Cosby show “You Bet Your Life,” served as host.

“It was the most exciting thing that ever happened,” Sterling said of that first broadcast.

The initial episodes of “The Jazz Network” featured such L.A. players as trombonist Thurman Green and Childs, and only aired once a month on Continental. Nine months later, the other three cable systems had picked up the show, as had systems in Manhattan and Boston.

Response was strong, and many artists, among them Hubbard, made inquiries to appear on the show. Usually, though, Sterling contacts an artist’s manager, and most musicians are glad to appear, he said.

Childs was the first artist to be recorded in a live performance outside Continental’s facilities, where three cameras are available. That show, taped in late 1991 when Childs’ played at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks, cost Sterling $400 in equipment rentals. “Continental only provides one camera and one recording deck” free of charge for outside studio shoots, “and I felt we needed at least two cameras to make it look nice.”


Since then, Sterling has produced live shoots of Cobham, Scofield, Patrice Rushen and Branford Marsalis, whose performance at the Jazz Bakery has yet to be edited for broadcast.

Upcoming “Jazz Network” shows feature DiMeola hosting a jazz video show on June 7, Williams on June 14, Rick Zunigar on June 21, and Corea on June 28.

Sterling isn’t completely philanthropic about his venture and is sending his programs around, hoping for sponsorship. “After all, isn’t that the real dream of all public-access producers, to see their shows on regular TV?” he asked.

Still, he’ll keep producing “The Jazz Network” as long as he’s financially able. “Somebody’s got to do it,” he said. “A lot of people would like to see jazz on TV, but it’s just not put on the airwaves with any regularity. It’s said there’s no market for it, but TV is advertising and jazz would automatically become more popular if someone would just program it.”