jazzin’ for Jacques

Funding drive is a stressful time at CKCU. For two weeks, an environment that normally stimulates creativity is all about business: the business of raising sufficient funds to keep Canada’s original campus-based community radio station afloat for 12 more months. And as I meekly entered the phone room to tackle my first shift all those years ago, it was intimidating. Here was I, a lowly would-be announcer and Hog’s Back High student, doing my volunteerly duty while awaiting the chance to inflict my musical tastes on an unsuspecting listenership. (A chance that would not come until months later.) On either side of me were voices already legend at the station: Ron Sweetman, host then and now of the Wednesday-night jazz program In a Mellow Tone; and Jacques Emond, whose Sunday-afternoon Swing is in the Air stands as a veritable online textbook for those wishing to delve into everything from vintage Artie Shaw to the latest in bebop adventurism. Hurriedly pacing up and down the hall and doing his best to instill in all of us a sense of urgency, was Black and Blues host John Tackaberry. And at the end of that hall, in the on-air studio, Chopper McKinnon, whose Canadian Spaces routinely left all others in the dust come funding-drive time.

As I said, intimidating. Yet, for all the grizzled-veteran stripes these men — who between them have logged well over a century behind the mic at Studio A — had earned, this greenhorn was made to feel at home. And, with Sweetman and Emond on either side of me, I came away from the table that morning having absorbed more must-have jazz records than a Carleton student (or grad) could possibly afford. Moreover, I came away feeling worthy of my new second-home, thanks to the encouragement of men I’d already welcomed into my ears for some years. When I joined the station, I’d never anticipated putting faces to the voices I’d come to know. No doubt, I’d formed a mental image of these and other show hosts — some proved to match the reality, many did not. But what I recall in addition about that day is the thrill of talking to Jacques Emond not about jazz but about sports. The man knew is stuff. In subsequent years, as I came to know him better, I would join him at Lynx baseball games and at 67s and Olympiques minor-league hockey games — a jazzman to the end, Emond unfailingly looked outside the mainstream, even in sports. (I would also, I’m proud to say, on occasion have the honour of hosting Swing is in the Air, as I would Black and Blues and In a Mellow Tone. And yes, that too was and is intimidating; though, again, I am grateful to the consummate hosts for their encouragement.)

That search outside the mainstream, of course, is what brought Jacques Emond to CKCU over 30 years ago. But while his devotion to promoting jazzers new and old may have ensured a place on the fringe, honours from the French government and programming decisions that helped build our city’s finest summer music festival placed him deservedly in the spotlight. And, as with everything, he handled such matters with grace and composure. The sort of composure that could put even a nervous young volunteer at ease.

Thanks, Jacques. For the games. For the tunes. For the times.

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