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  • Rich Kassirer

'Brunch by the River': A Feast for the Ears


It’s 9 a.m. on a Sunday. Your household of kids or pets or whoever is starting to stir. You fix yourself a strong cup of coffee and start to think about the day: eat breakfast, read the paper and then a move toward something fun or productive … maybe by noon. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a soundtrack to your morning, something that wakes you up nice and slow and then gets you on your feet and moving?

Lisa Garvey is there for you.

Garvey is the DJ of the radio show “Brunch By the River,” which plays a unique and expertly coordinated medley of jazz, soul, blues and rock – what she calls a “groove show” – perfect for your weekend wake-up call. ?The show airs in the Boston area and beyond Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon on WXRV-FM 92.5 The River and live on the Web at [Ed. note: the logo above does not reflect the new hours.]

On any given Sunday, Miles Davis’ cool trumpet might segue into horn powerhouse Tower of Power then to B.B. King, Al Green or maybe Steely Dan.

It’s a mix of music no other commercial station in Boston – perhaps in the country – is playing. Jazz alone is pretty much a four-letter word meaning unmarketable in radio. Even the majority of college stations have abandoned it.

So how is it received by listeners on ’XRV?

“It’s been great,” says Garvey, truly ecstatic to talk about her show. “People really seem to like it. The Facebook page has become a chat room, not only to make requests, but to talk about the songs and to each other. One couple even ‘met’ there!” (More on this later.) Listeners from as far away as Brazil, St. Lucia, and Florida check in to let Garvey know they are listening. “Good Morning from rain laden Pensacola FL,’’ says one recent post. “I am sharing BBTR with my neighbors.”

The fact that the show exists at all is a testament to Garvey’s love for soul and jazz music. Her regular gig, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. during the week, is the standard adult contemporary WXRV format: Coldplay, Jack Johnson, Death Cab for Cutie, Bruce Springsteen, etc. Though the station gets a few bonus points for ranging a little wider and deeper than most, Garvey sticks to the computer-generated playlist during the week.

But “Brunch By the River” is all her.

The show existed before she took it over five years ago, but, she says, it lacked soul, literally: It played a lot less soul music, was heavy on world beat, and the jazz selections were what she calls “condo jazz” – no Miles, no Coltrane, no Charlie Parker.

But now “everything has a soulful groove,” she says proudly. “Jazz and soul go well together.” She might even mix in a well-placed pop song, maybe an Amos Lee tune, now and then.

“All the music is from my home CD collection,” she says. “I bring in a pile of jazz, a pile of soul and a pile of blues. I always start with a jazz song. I know almost all the intros to the songs I’m playing, so I just see what would fit next. Ninety percent of the time it works.”

On a recent Sunday, the show opened with the Jean-Pierre Rampal-Claude Bolling jazzy flute and piano duet “Baroque and Blue,’’ followed by Solomon Burke’s soul-searching “None of Us Are Free.’’ Before the hour was up, Garvey had mixed in Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together?,” a rare version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Sting and Jeff Beck, Miles Davis’ “My Funny Valentine,” and, to prove that the show’s not rooted only in the past, Bob Schneider’s “Big Blue Sea.” Other artists featured during the three-hour show included Robert Palmer, Jamie Cullum, the Wood Brothers and the Staples Singers.

Still, it’s Garvey’s intimate knowledge of the music that makes “Brunch By the River” more than just background music to your bacon and eggs. She’s well-versed in all things soul and blues, and what she doesn’t know about jazz, she has her dad, working jazz drummer Nat Mugavero, as backup. “He’s a great go-to guy when I need some information on a jazz song,” she says.

And Garvey lives for the details: Recently, following the song “Someone Loan Me a Dime” from “Brunch” playlist regular Boz Scaggs, she told listeners about the tune’s origins, saying it was from his first album and then dropped this juicy tidbit: the guitar player on the track is rock great Duane Allman. And after playing Jeff Beck’s ’70s instrumental hit “’Cause We Ended as Lovers,” she added this nugget: The song was written by Stevie Wonder. Who knew?

Garvey, that’s who.

“Whenever I get a new album, I always look at the credits,” she says, adding that those little facts are ways of catching listeners’ attention, and maybe sparking them to listen to a song they might not normally hear.  “If some 20-year-old was listening and I say this bass player is a favorite of [Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist] Flea, they may listen.”

While 20-year-olds are not the prime audience for the show, it’s no doubt that it has caught on – even with management.

At first it was a bit of a struggle convincing the program director (at the time) to change the format, she says. The fact that the show airs Sundays, a “kind of throwaway” day in radio, helped ease the transition.

The show has gathered a really strong, very active listener base, including that couple who found love during the show. Recently, William posted this note on WXRV’s Facebook page: “Ruth and I met on the show’s Facebook page four weeks ago … After I posted a question to the page she friend-ed me … So Lisa … You are a matchmaker as well.”

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