KRTU Host Spotlight: The Jazz Protagonists
Get to know the hosts of the Jazz Protagonists Jazz Party
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Portrait of The Jazz Protagonists Darren Kuper, Barry Drake, and Greg Norris

This April we are featuring two out of three members from a San Antonio piano trio, the Jazz Protagonists. They specialize in classic jazz in the tradition of Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and Oscar Peterson and they have been playing together for just over 30 years. Barry Brake, the pianist and Darren Kuper, the drummer, also host a show on KRTU called Protagonist Jazz Party on Tuesdays at 9pm. Greg Norris is the string bassist of the Jazz Protagonists and he co-hosts some of the live shows.


Barry Drake and Darren Kuper having cocktails in a Brooklyn bar

Barry Brake and Darren Kuper have been involved in the San Antonio jazz scene for many years. Barry is a freelance composer, arranger, pianist, and producer. Darren is a sought-after drummer in the San Antonio jazz scene. He plays with many groups around town. Darren is also the co-owner of High School Music, a musical instrument retail store. They are also dads, so they spend much of their ‘free’ time participating in Scouts and sports with their kids.

Darren Kuper and Barry Drake smoking cigars on Jazz Night circa 1990

Barry and Darren grew up listening to their parents’ jazz collections (lots of Ellington, Brubeck, Goodman, and Garner) among other genres (Herb Alpert, Mitch Miller, Toscanini, Pavarotti, Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel).  They met in high school and found their families had similar taste. They would go to each other’s house often to listen and talk about the music together, similar to their show now!

They decided to get involved at KRTU in 2002. They were attracted to the idea of playing live on air, thus the Protagonist Jazz Party was born. This evolved into curating pre-recorded live sets with featured guests monthly. Currently, they host a show once a week to share their favorite recordings (usually late 50s and early 60s music) alongside their monthly set.

Portrait of The Jazz Protagonists Greg Norris, Darren Kuper, and Barry Drake

Darren ends up covering the information on the show as he is “basically a walking encyclopedia” and Barry keeps them on track while doing most of the production work. In order to get a good idea of the music they play on their show they recommend that you listen to Erroll Garner’s “Concert By The Sea” followed by Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer” and “Juju” and “of course, “Ellington Jazz Party,” which is part of what [their] show’s name is an homage to.” Barry Brake and Darren Kuper believe San Antonio has a great music scene and they believe KRTU is a big part of the jazz experience here in San Antonio.

The Jazz Protagonists Darren Kuper, Greg Norris, and Barry Drake


1. Who are you? (career, talents, interests.. )
Barry: I'm a composer, arranger, performer, producer — 
Darren: — drinker of single-malt Scotch —
Barry: — and Darren is the drummer who plays with every single group in town
Darren: Hah! Well, whichever ones'll have me. And I also am co-owner of High School Music, which is a band instrument company.

2. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Darren: Spare time? I had some of that in the 90s, I think.
Barry: We're dads, so there's lots of dad stuff like Scouts and sports. And don't forget the single-malt Scotch.
Darren: And we host the Protagonists Jazz Party, every Tuesday at 9pm. We have way more fun doing it than anyone has listening to it.

3. What was your first experience with jazz music? - how has that shaped your music taste?
Barry: both of us listened a lot growing up. Our parents had great jazz collections —
Darren: — among other things. They had all the mid-century stuff, and our families even had a lot of the same stuff. Lots of Ellington, lots of Brubeck
Barry: lots of Benny Goodman and Erroll Garner, along with — yeah — Herb Alpert, Mitch Miller, Toscanini, Pavarotti, Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel...
Darren: so when we met in high school we were already very much on the same page. We'd go over to each others' house and just sit and listen and talk about it.
Barry: ... actually pretty much what we do now on the show.
Darren: We haven't even matured that much.

4. Top album at the moment, top song at the moment - what are you loving right now?
Darren: oh, man, too many to mention. Who's your favorite kid?
Barry: I'm loving the new releases of Erroll Garner's stuff.

5. When did you first start listening to krtu/how did you get involved? - why did you want to get involved?
Barry: I don't even remember.
Darren: It was '02, and we decided it would be fun to bring back an old way of doing radio, with us playing live on the air. That morphed into doing pre-recorded live stuff, with special guests.
Barry: That was monthly. And then that turned into a weekly thing where we just shared our favorite disks and then did the us-playing-thing every month still.

6. Why do you support KRTU's mission?
Darren: OK, this is serious, like very important stuff. San Antonio has such a great music scene, and KRTU is a big part of keeping things going. It's a real hub for jazz around here.

7. A description of your show.
Barry: Tomfoolery — 
Darren: — and rapscalliaciousness, with some buffoonery thrown in.
Barry: We play our favorite jazz — 
Darren: — which winds up being lots of late-50s and early-60s stuff — 
Barry: — and even though we're a trio we play lots of stuff with horns just because we love that stuff.
Darren: It's funny because as a band owe as much to Ellington as anything, and we're a trio. Weird.
Barry: Darren is basically a walking encyclopedia, so he does a lot of the information on the show.
Darren: Man, I just read a lot, read, read, read, and I remember everything I read, so, kind of yes.
Barry: We'll be playing an old album and Darren knows all the ins and outs of the recordings.
Darren: And Barry keeps us on track.
Barry: Hah! True. I'm an old radio guy, so I was fairly spiffy early on about doing station breaks and IDs and all that housekeeping stuff.
Darren: And Barry ends up doing most of the production work on our live/recorded shows.

8. How did you come up with your show and how have you seen it evolve? (musically, contextually, personally)
Barry: Heh - we haven't evolved at all.
Darren: We're still musical Neanderthals.
Barry: — who have been getting lots of bad press lately. Neanderthals were awesome.
Darren: But they couldn't swing.

9. What is your favorite subgenre to play on your show? - do you have a Spotify playlist I could link? or a sample of what you would play on your show?
Barry: heh. We don't do Spotify, because Spotify doesn't pay musicians. But hey.
Darren: Heyy! True. But to get a good idea of our show just listen to Erroll Garner's "Concert By The Sea."
Barry: Followed by "Night Dreamer" and "Juju."
Darren: Man, those albums are great. That's all very much in our thing. And of course "Ellington Jazz Party," which is part of what our show's name is homage to.
Barry: What those things have in common is that they're all Serious Art, but always very appealing to a general audience. Which is one thing we're all about.

10. How do you decide which songs you want to play? and the order?
Barry and Darren: <look at each other> <laugh>
Darren: Heh, usually, I just bring stuff and say, "This is what we're doing tonight."
Barry: ... which is fine with me. Because, again: encyclopedia. That stretches to Darren's collection, which is amazing.

11. What do you like to talk about during your show?
Darren: The music.
Barry: Yes! The music and all about it, with a little bit of – 
Darren: — also, the music.
Barry: And although we keep it light and fun, we actually don't like to talk that much.
Darren: The quotient of music-to-talk on the show is ridiculously high.
Barry: That's because I get mad when I get in the car and someone's talking, and they're still talking when I arrive wherever I'm going.
Darren: I'm generally color commentary, and Barry is ... I actually don't know what Barry does.
Barry: I mainly take care of the coffee.

12. What are your hopes for KRTU's future, your future, our community, etc
Darren: I've been hoping they'd get into real estate.
Barry: Flipping is what it's all about now.
Darren: Shiplap. I'm big on that.
Barry: No way, man, shiplap is so yesterday.
Darren: Look. Here's the thing. Music is essential to life. We all need it. And live music is rarer than ever now. It's a precious thing, and you can lose it. So. More. More of that. Real musicians, real music.

13. Anything else you would like me to include?
Barry: I wouldn't say no to a good single-malt Scotch.
Darren: Though mescal can be good too.
Barry: Just sayin'.
Darren: Also you should include Greg Norris, the Protags bassist. He obviously does the live shows, but his gal is such a good cook we can't get him to come do the show that often.
Barry: Greg is the smartest Protagonist.
Darren: — by far —
Barry: And we should mention that we've been together 30 years.
Darren: actually 1990, so 2020 we were going to do our big 30th anniversary concert. So... you know how that turned out.
Barry: Stay tuned though. We're doing a rematch when things open up a bit.

KRTU is a leader in commercial-free, listener-supported radio specializing in diverse music programming that is locally-curated and showcases regional musicians, with a focus on community outreach and education.

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