The best part of travel, or at least one of the best parts (who can choose?), involves exposure to new cultures. Two radio stations, WBGO-FM in Newark, New Jersey and WGBH-FM in Boston, have teamed up with Brickhouse Productions Jazz Music and Cultural Tours (tel. 888/865-5786; www.jazztours.org) for a bossa nova winter dream: a music and culture tour of Brazil. Keith Brickhouse, who has a background in travel, broadcasting and music, has worked with public radio jazz station WBGO since 1998 -- their first trip was to Montreux Jazz Festival Switzerland. With the personalized and specialized assistance of Jazz Tours, WBGO has taken listeners to jazz festivals and other musical activities in Italy, the Netherlands, Paris, Argentina, Switzerland, Montreal, New York, Cuba, and South Africa.
"We were looking for a way to expand the jazz experience for our listeners and it was serendipity that we found Keith," says Cephas Bowles, WBGO's general manager. "Prior to that we were doing some travel but in a haphazard way -- nothing as consistent as what we're doing now."
Of course, thanks to the Internet, many public radio stations have found listeners (who often become members) in far-flung places. WBGO (you can listen to its live stream at www.wbgo.org) is no exception. Far from exotic, though, WBGO listeners-turned-travelers have hailed from not just the New York metro area. Colorado, Chicago, California and Washington, D.C., have been represented, too, says development director Maria Gatewood.
Typically, the tours don't "sell out" per se or reach maximum capacity -- Bowles says they have a minimum number they need to hit in order for the trip to be fiscally feasible -- but the largest boasted between 25-30 people and the smallest tour comprised of just a dozen people. Gatewood says they'll be closing out the Brazil trip in mid-December and there is still space left. "This trip, for some reason, has a lot of single people signed up,'" she says. Usually, the group's demographics span all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. "It's heavily diverse," says Bowles, "but the common link is WBGO and music. I've seen people who aren't from the metro area and they immediately get swept up in the group. It's a lot of fun," he says.
WBGO's "One Note Samba" runs from February 16-24 and station's general manager Cephas Bowles leads the way to Brazil, specifically Rio de Janeiro and Salvador da Bahia, as residents prepare for Carnaval. The trip sends you to samba school, on a cruise to the islands off the coast of Rio, a percussion workshop, a cable car ride at dusk, and more. It's a nine-day, eight-night tour that departs from New York-JFK and the cost is $3,645 based on double occupancy ($395 for single supplement). Brickhouse says station members receive a special discount of $200. A portion of the payment is tax deductible and supports the radio station. Accommodations include the four-star Miramar Palace Hotel in Rio overlooking Copacabana Beach and the four-star Monte Pascoal Hotel in Salvador da Bahia. The majority of meals are included. A $500 non-refundable deposit is required within five days of booking and the trip must be paid in full 45 days before travel. If you want to stay in Brazil during this festive time, you can extend the tour four additional nights (February 24-March 1) for an additional $800 (based on double occupancy) and $1,395 for single supplement. Brickhouse says he's leading two more WBGO jazz festival tours in 2006 -- to Pori, Finland in July, and Cork, Ireland, in October.
Similarly, WGBH in Boston (tel. 617/300-3000; www.wgbh.org) got involved with Jazz Tours a couple of years ago with a trip to France and in January 2006 will also head to South America with a trip called Brazil: A Musical and Cultural Tour. Travel from January 21-30 with the station's Marita Rivero, vice president and general manager for radio and television. The cost is $3,887 based on double occupancy ($400 for single supplement) and all breakfasts, seven dinners and three lunches are included. The flight departs from Boston to Miami, and then Miami to Salvador da Bahia, where New Englanders will also stay at four-star Monte Pascoal Hotel in the city for three nights. Cultural experiences include a folklore show spotlighting Bahia's African traditions and sacred dances. In Rio the accommodations are the three-star Martinique Hotel, located half a block from Copacabana Beach, and similar activities, including a cable car mountainside trip, a churrasco dinner, an evening at a Brazilian pub, and a percussion workshop. The tour price includes a $300 tax-deductible contribution to the station.
WGBH (which you can also stream live online) is a public broadcasting network with both television and radio stations, and while Jazz Tours is involved, the trip is part of WBGH's Learningtours (tel. 617/300-3505; www.wgbh.org/support/member_benefits/learntours). Through this ten-year-old program, station employees have taken members on trips to Ireland, Northern Italy, France, and Florida; 2006 features trips to Salzburg and Vienna, Alaska and Ireland. Not all of these tours are jazz related; Celtic, opera, Mozart, and other classical music interests are represented, too. "It's a great way to engage our members and put them in contact with what we play on the air," says Mary Toropov, director of Learningtours program.
Toropov says WGBH's excursions usually comprise about twenty people and inspire repeat travelers. There is still space available for the Brazil trip and Toropov prefers that anyone who is interested to send the reservation and deposit directly to her attention at the station -- the contact information is available as a downloadable at www.jazztours.org/WGBH_Brazil_Brochure.pdf(you'll need Adobe Acrobat to view). Of those who travel, Toropov says "at least half are already members," leaving plenty of room for WGBH to boost membership this way. "We develop relationships with donors and they feel a sense of personal connection to it and really love traveling with like-minded people. People really bond and even have reunions," she says. Sounds like another wonderful, unanticipated byproduct of travel.
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