When I arrived in Canada in 1969 I had no radio experience, but had been what I call a “jazz activist” for over 20 years, collecting records, writing and lecturing about jazz, and setting up my first jazz organization. Once settled in Montreal I joined the Montreal Vintage Music Society, and in approximately 1972 was a founder-member of “L’Atelier de Musique Experimentale” [the Experimental Music Workshop], which sponsored Montreal concerts by Marion Brown, Abdullah Ibrahim, Roscoe Mitchell, Rene Thomas and others. In the early ‘seventies, my work took me to Quebec City, where Jean-Pascal Souque invited me onto his jazz program on CKRL at Universite Laval, and to Bermuda, where I prepared programs on Billie Holiday and Jazz Violin for a show hosted by Larry Thomas.
My family and I moved to Ottawa in July 1975, and soon I was hearing about the launch of a new alternative radio station CKCU-FM 93.1. I rang the station as it opened and asked if they needed a jazz programmer: “We’ve got too many already” was the blunt answer. So I was agreeably surprised when Craig Mackie phoned me in April 1976 to say that the regular host of “Blue ‘N’ Boogie” [Paul Hoffman] would be taking the summer off, and would I be interested in standing in for him? Of course I agreed immediately, and did my first show on May 5, 1976. Because I was seen as only a temporary volunteer, I was excused from the training and was given a seasoned operator. This lack of proper training has dogged me ever since, and I still approach the board with more concern than confidence.
When Paul returned in the Fall, I was offered my own show, which I named “In A Mellow Tone”. This was a one hour show on a Monday evening, recorded and re-broadcast Thursday lunchtime. This played havoc with my sense of time; I couldn’t wish listeners “Good Evening” and I could never say someone would be performing “tomorrow”. There was also a management belief that the listeners at Thursday lunchtime would be musically-conservative housewives, and I was enjoined to choose and play, on Monday evening, music that would raise no hackles over Thursday lunch. Working in the Public Service, I had learned that forgiveness is always easier to obtain than permission, so I ignored this advice and heard no more.
When CKCU “went public” in November 1975, various local radio stations generously passed on to us equipment and furniture that they no longer used. This resulted in a studio that looked like the morning after an unsuccessful garage sale. I particularly recall one microphone, held together by scotch tape, which, as I spoke into it, slowly sank further and further downwards until it came to rest on the board beside my flattened face as I attempted to follow its collapse.
The essential philosophy of In A Mellow Tone has been to present jazz from every epoch and in every style, from the first recordings in 1917 to those made yesterday. I have done innumerable programs on individual jazz artists, and whole series on people like Albert Ammons, Clifford Brown, Teddy Bunn, John Carter, Gil Evans, Chris McGregor and Charles Mingus. I have featured cities [Copenhagen, Denver, New Orleans and San Diego], and countries [Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey]. There have been programs on individual instruments [French Horn and Violin] and on specialized jazz record labels [Delmark, Jazz Crusade, Reel Recordings].
Each year I furnish an introduction to the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, the Guelph Jazz Festival, Ottawa Bluesfest and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, and each week I list upcoming jazz events right across Canada. I believe it is the combination of diversity and relevance that has kept listeners loyal over thirty-two years.
How has being at CKCU affected my life? Having to protect every Wednesday evening from the demands of work and family requires a discipline that is sometimes sorely tried; my time as an international management consultant from 1990 to 2000 being the extreme trial; my heart-felt thanks to all those generous volunteers who took my place when I really had to be in Algeria, Barbados, Russia, Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe.
What I have gained most from my association with CKCU has been the privilege of working alongside and becoming friends with an amazing group of very fine human beings such as Alnoor Allidina, David Broscoe, Elorious Cain, Matthew Crosier,
Tony Daye, Dave Emmerson, Jacques Emond, Bill Grant, Rachel Hauraney, Jim Hurcomb, Taline Jirian, Mark Keill, Steve Kirkland, Janis Lockwood, Chopper McKinnon,
Pat Moore, Ron Moores, Steven Neale, Mick Panesar, Howard Peart, Gord Peeling,
Joe Reilly, Dave Sarazin, Junior Smith, Ron Steeds, Bernard Stepien,
Alan Surmachynski, John Tackaberry, Jean Thibault, Aidian Thomas, Bruce Walton,
John Westhaver, Ian Willson, Paul Wilson and so many more. We were all united by our fascination with the power of radio and our determination to use it as an independent multi-cultural non-commercial informative medium.