ST. CHARLES – Denny Farrell lives in a different age from the rest of us – the 1930s and 40s to be exact. He hangs out in a vinyl record-filled room in the basement of his St. Charles home that has been turned into a radio booth and broadcasts the best of big band and jazz music from the likes of Count Basie, Artie Shaw, and Glenn Miller.
His show, “The Original Big Band Showcase” with Denny Farrell, is broadcast across the Web and scattered stations across the country.
“It’s kind of an oasis in the wasteland of radio today where people whine about the same thing over and over,” Farrell says.
And starting today, for the fourth year in a row, he will be the radio voice for the Sun Valley Swing and Dixie Jazz Jamboree in Sun Valley, Idaho. The jamboree will be from today until Sunday.
All in all, after more than 30 years in radio, Farrell remains a busy man.
He sits in his studio after recording a show – he produces about three a week – and drinks coffee out of a beaten mug. Beside him is his playlist for Sun Valley, all typed up and ready to go.
The room is littered with albums – Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, if it’s a great jazz or big band musician, it’s there – old microphones and memorabilia from the golden age of big band.
“It’s a sound a lot of people truly miss,” Farrell says. “It’s a warm security blanket for baby boomers who grew up with this type of music.”
His voice has a deep, rich timbre to it; he sounds almost like Rip Torn. His voice doesn’t beckon or soothe; it rumbles as if a small earthquake were rippling up the fault lines of his vocal cords.
It didn’t come naturally to Farrell. He had to work at it, and now it permeates even his normal conversations, which works for Farrell because that is exactly what he wants to get across to his listeners – that’s he’s just having a conversation with them.
“I didn’t take lessons,” Farrell says. “I listened to the best radio people in broadcasting.
And he has put his voice to good use, doing voice-overs, commercials, narrations and announcements. You would buy soup from this guy. Even in the summer.
But while commercials help pay the bills, his true loves remains big band and jazz.
While at Sun Valley this week, Farrell – who is one of three announcers to be inducted into The Big Band Hall of Fame – will be offering a class on Big Band history.
Teaching people about his great love is something he enjoys doing. He teaches a non-credit old time radio show class at Elgin Community College, where the last class is a performance in front of a live audience.
“When you go on the microphone, you’re accountable,” Farrell says. “I’ve always looked at being on the air as privilege and not a right.”
While he knows his favorite type of music isn’t the most popular today, he foresees a comeback for big band.
“People are starting to listen again,” Farrell says. “Rap can only go so far. It’s about as rhythmic as a jackhammer.”
And as he sits in his studio, surrounded by memories of big band at the height of its popularity, he’s content with his career path.
“I made the right choice by getting into broadcasting,” he says.