Willis Clark Conover, Jr. (October 18, 1920 – May 17, 1996) was a jazz producer and broadcaster on the Voice of America for over forty years. He produced jazz concerts at the White House, the Newport Jazz Festival, and for movies and television. By arranging concerts where people of all races were welcome, he is credited with desegregating Washington D.C. nightclubs. Conover is credited with keeping interest in jazz alive in the countries of Eastern Europe through his nightly broadcasts during the Cold War.
Conover came to work at the Voice of America, and eventually became a legend among jazz lovers, primarily due to the hour-long program on the Voice of America called Voice of America Jazz Hour. Known for his sonorous baritone voice, many would argue that he was the most important presenter on Voice of America. His slow delivery and the use of scripts written in "special English" made his programmes more widely accessible and he is said to have become the first teacher of English to a whole generation of East European jazz lovers. Conover was not well known in the United States, even among jazz aficionados, as the Voice of America did not broadcast domestically except on shortwave, but his visits to Eastern Europe and Soviet Union brought huge crowds and star treatment for him. On a trip to Moscow a taxi driver recognized him by his distinctive deep-toned voice. He was a celebrity figure in the Soviet Union, where jazz was very popular and the Voice of America was a prime source of information as well as music.
In 1956, Conover conducted a series of interviews with jazz luminaries like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, and Art Tatum. His interview with Tatum was is noted as "the only known in-depth recorded interview with the pianist". These interviews were selected by the Library of Congress as a 2010 addition to the National Recording Registry, which selects recordings annually that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Valery Ponomarev worked with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers for 4 years. With the Messengers, he performed at major concert halls, clubs, and festivals all over the world and recorded eleven record albums. He also made numerous television appearances with the Messengers in Europe, Japan, and Brazil. In the United States he has made television appearances on "To Tell The Truth," on the PBS network, National Geographic Today, and CNN. He performed at the Clifford Brown Memorial Concert in Wilmington, Delaware, 1991, which featured the music of the legendary Max Roach/Clifford Brown Quintet with Max Roach (leader) on drums, Harold Land, tenor sax, George Morrow, bass, Sam Dockery, piano, and Valery Ponomarev, trumpet.
Mr. Ponomarev returned to Russia in 1990, the first time after a 17-year absence, to participate in the First International Jazz Festival in Moscow along with many of the world's greatest jazz superstars. Since then Mr. Ponomarev has traveled regularly to Russia with American musicians, including Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Bobbie Watson, James "Sid" Simmons, Bradford Leali, Vincent Lewis, Byron & Robert Landham, Sean McGloin, Evelyn Blakey, joining local stars for concerts and tours of the major cities in Siberia, Moscow and St Petersburg.
As a solo artist, Mr. Ponomarev has completed two tours of Australia, China and numerous European tours, including a special tour with Harold Land featuring the music of Clifford Brown. He was also featured as a European superstar at the Charlie Parker in Paris Festival.
Willis Conover Tribute - Valery Ponomarev (Валерий Пономарев) Quintet, June 6, 1996 VOA.