When Jacques Emond died last year, the jazz community lost not only a great friend but a fine radio program. Swing Is In the Air has been on CKCU on Sunday afternoons for as long as I can remember. Jacques had eclectic tastes in jazz and he was not afraid to showcase them on the radio. The current fads did not count for much with him, nor did he pander to his audience. It was just stuff he liked, some of it new, much of it old, and he hoped we would like it too.
When we listen to much of jazz radio now — the dumbed-down programming on CBC2, the increasingly bland offerings on Toronto’s Jazz FM — we realize how much we have missed Swing Is In the Air.
So it was good to get an email from Karen Oxorn, a well-regarded Ottawa singer, reminding us that swing is still very much in the air. Sunday, Jan. 12, is Karen’s first day as one of the rotating hosts of the program, who have kept the show alive since the tribute to Jacques Emond last year. Karen has had a little experience at it, cohosting once with Jacques in a show that was a Peggy Lee tribute. But, she adds, “It is quite daunting to think about doing the show given Jacque’s many years at it and his wonderful connection to his audience through his vast knowledge of the music, the artists and his enthusiasm for them.”Her first play list, available on CKCU’s website, indicates that she may have nothing to fear. It draws on musicians she has seen live, such as Cyrille Aimée and the Surreal Band, musicians whose music she performs, such as Django Reinhardt (Jan. 25 at GigSpace), singers she admires, such as Kurt Elling and Jill Barber, and a healthy handful of top Ottawa musicians, such as Rebecca Noelle and the Steve Boudreau/Garry Elliott duo. The last three are familiar as JazzWorks participants, the latter two as faculty.
“I plan to do a number of thematic shows and focus on vocal jazz,” Oxorn writes, “although not to the exclusion of exploring instrumental numbers. I’ll be looking at the careers of particular singers or songwriters, for example, or maybe something happening around town or new releases I am digging; stuff like that.”
Others in the rotating core of Swing Is In the Air DJs, include Cameron Garbutt and the saxophists Vince Rimbach and Ralph Hopper. Hopper, another former JazzWorks participant, acts as co-ordinator. He was brought in by station manager Matthew Crozier, who knew of his interest in jazz.
In an email to me he said that while he could not claim to have anywhere near the knowledge that Jacques brought to the program, “I think we all hope that our approach would be appreciated by Jacques and his long time audience. I'm sure we bring a somewhat different approach to the program with each of us doing different things. While the show will remain with a 'swing' theme and we do not intend to get into the more 'modern' or 'avant-garde' areas, I'm sure we program things that Jacques might not.”
He added: “Jacques' legacy at CKCU, hopefully, will continue on with the program for many years. It was indeed difficult to come in to do the show after Jacques died but I think he would be pleased with what Swing continues to air each week.”
One intriguing aspect of the legacy that remains untouched is the program’s theme song, a swinging big band track that I always enjoyed but couldn’t identify. I asked Jacques about it once and he told me it was by an obscure European band — German I think. I’ve since forgotten what it was. Ralph Hopper doesn’t know either but, he says, “ I would not have even thought twice about changing the theme!”
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About this blog
Tune Up won't be a calendar of events — Ottawa Jazz Happenings takes care of that. But it will discuss events and issues of interest to the JazzWorks community. Journalist, author, trumpet player and a jazz camper since 1999, Charley Gordon is a former vice-president of JazzWorks.