It’s 9:55 p.m. on Wednesday Sept. 30; Leo Cates arrives to San Diego City College in his 1964 Ford Mustang aka “The Jazz Mobile.”
The thin-framed seasoned senior citizen steps out of his car in sweats, sandals and a blue Jazz 88.3 T-shirt. With a memorized set list and minimal preparation, the comfortable looking Jazz 88.3 deejay has five minutes before his “Late Evening Jazz” show.
For the past 23-and-a-half years, his voice has graced Jazz 88.3’s airwaves. This will be his last show.
“It’s real simple,” Cates says. “I’m opening with the exact same set as 23-and-a-half years ago.”
Cates is in high spirits. His energy and enthusiasm matches those 30-40 years younger than him. A quick out loud practice of a KSDS Jazz 88.3 announcement and an anecdote about “The Very Tall Band’s” requirement for members to be over six feet tall accompanies his brief set up.
Before March 1986, when Cates first stepped into the jazz studio, he had a 14-year job as a horse race journalist in North County San Diego-a career completely different from the world of jazz.
A year-and-a-half before his silver year as an eclectic radio deejay, the white-haired man chose to embark on a new journey. His new passion for tutoring students in the L Building’s English Center has led him to make the decision to give up his position at Jazz 88.3.
“They forced me to make a choice,” Cates said, referring to the San Diego Community College District.
For a little more than a year, Cates has doubled as a tutor and a deejay on the City College campus. Recently, his once ardent passion for jazz in its purist form has dwindled.
Now, working with students on campus from more than 170 countries is his new excitement; and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the English Department is his new home.
“It’s sort of a moment in/moment out phenomenon,” Cates said, referring to his change in interests over the years.
A May 2009 issue of City Times, which profiled Cates soon after his 23rd anniversary with Jazz 88.3, noted “his passion for jazz” as “slowly dissipating.”
Since “naturally growing out of” jazz, the “art” has slowly phased from the center of his life.
Mike Kaye, a teacher in the Radio and Television Department and deejay for Jazz 88.3’s “Evening Jazz,” has known Cates for “about 15 years.”
“He felt it was time to go,” Kaye said. ” He loves working with all the students at City.”
Kaye was surprised when he heard of Cates’ decision, since Cates has often been referred to as the “professor” of jazz music. A “walking encyclopedia,” some would say.
“He takes jazz very seriously,” he said, “he consistently talks about the art form and the composition.
Gary Beck, a long-time Jazz 88.3 broadcaster called Cates’ sign off “a terrible loss to the family.”
Replacing Cates — although program director Claudia Russell doesn’t consider anyone able to “replace” him — is Chad Fox on Mondays and “Birdman” on Wednesdays. Fox is a former Radio and Television department student who got an internship with Jazz 88.3.
Now, he’s hosting “Late Evening Jazz,” playing tunes with a more “progressive sound, jazz fusion,” as he calls it.
“Yeah, I do have some shoes to fill. Hopefully I can live up to his standard,” Fox said.
Before Cates shut the soundproof door of the studio and began his last set, he uttered: “In the immortal words of Porky Pig, that’s all folks.”