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Friends, colleagues pay tribute to Jacques Emond on special "Swing is in the Air"

Ron Sweetman, Joe Reilly, and Bernard Stepien (with sax) on-air during the Jacques Emond tribute show on CKCU-FM ©Brett Delmage, 2013

CKCU Tribute to Jacques Emond
Aired: Sunday January 20, 16:00 – 17:30 on CKCU FM 93.1 FM
Also available at CKCU On Demand on the Internet

Long-time jazz colleagues and friends of the late Jacques Emond gathered around the microphone at CKCU-FM on January 20 to pay tribute to him on “Swing is in the Air”. Emond had hosted the show for more than 30 years before suddenly passing away on January 6.

Fellow CKCU jazz radio show hosts, jazz journalists, Ottawa Jazz Festival staff, and jazz musicians spoke passionately about their experiences, friendships with, and respect for Jacques Emond. Their reminiscences easily filled the ninety minute show. Show host Joe Reilly and guests collectively shared more than 150 years of memories with their radio and Internet listeners. The recollections were interspersed with live and recorded jazz which had personal meanings and connections to Emond and his favourite jazz artists.

“He knew everybody, everybody knew him,” said Maurizio Ortolani, a former Executive Director of the Ottawa Jazz Festival and the New Media Producer at the National Arts Centre. Ortolani described how a short walk with Emond at a NYC jazz educators conference became a very slow trip, as many people who knew Emond over the years came up to chat enthusiastically with him – and Emond remembered them all.

“For someone with dimunitive stature, he was the big man on campus.”

Reilly, who had worked closely with Emond in the early years of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, kept the busy show moving at a lively pace. Frequently sharing laughter with guests about memorable moments, he assembled the show into a warm celebration of Emond and his “amazing legacy”.

As a close friend of Emond for 37 years and a fellow CKCU radio host for Emond's entire time at the station, Ron Sweetman opened the show with a depth of experience and feeling. Describing their frequently divergent preferences in jazz over the decades, Ron told how they still maintained a close friendship.

“Our joint enthusiasm for jazz was much greater than the differences in the individual artists we listened to,” Sweetman noted.

Sweetman described meeting Emond while building the first jazz community in Ottawa, Jazz Ottawa, and how that led to other jazz initiatives like the Ottawa Jazz festival and the jazz radio programs which they both hosted.

“Jacques was a very positive and friendly person, and anyone working to improve the Ottawa jazz scene could count on his total support and participation.”

Bernard Stepien, host of CKCU's “Rabble without a Cause” (avant-garde jazz) show paid his tribute to his friend and colleage since 1974 with a live saxophone performance. Stepien first met Emond when Stepien played jazz at a small club, Cafe Hibou, almost forty years ago. They started talking about building an Ottawa jazz scene.

Stepien summed up the impact of Emond's early work, including starting a free-admission jazz festival, as “enormous.”

OttawaJazzScene Editor Alayne McGregor, who first met Emond as an Ottawa jazzfest volunteer in 1989, spoke about how she continued to meet Emond at local concerts, in both Ottawa and Gatineau.

She described his enthusiasm for a wide range of jazz, as “the consummate listener.” She brought in a CD from one of the Quebec shows they both attended, and talked about how Emond particularly celebrated and enjoyed local and Quebec musicians.

Executive Producer of the Ottawa Jazz Festival Catherine O'Grady highlighted Emond's “enormous patience”.

“I came [to the Ottawa Jazz Festival] knowing absolutely nothing about the milieu... he would just sit us down and he'd say 'Listen. Just listen. Just don't say anything, just listen.'

He'd play these wonderful games with us and we'd never, ever get it right, of course. We had these wonderful little 'blind listenings' he used to call them, in the office. He used to have a little thing of caramel candies [laughing] that he'd reward us with if we got it right. We almost never did.

He always stressed not over-intellectualizing the music... it was a great lesson. We all learned to love it because he did.”

Mid-show, trumpeter Dave Douglas phoned in from NYC to describe how Emond had been supportive of him as a young muscian, by first booking him and his trio at the Ottawa Jazz festival and treating them respectfully.

“His enthusiasm was infectious,” Douglas said.

“Jacques brought a singular vision to [the Ottawa Jazz Festival],” said James Hale, who was on the board of directors and president during its early years. “It started to coalesce.”

Ottawa Citizen jazz writer Peter Hum referred to Emond's “consummate, discriminating taste” and the imprint he put on the Festival in its early years, including in 1991.

“When you see the span of things he put on in Confederation Park it's really quite striking,” Hum said, calling out names of renowned musicians who Emond had programmed.

Hale recounted that Emond booked Diana Krall early on in the Festival, long before she became a worldwide name.

“He was such a big supporter of women and not believing in the stereotypes at all. He was totally colour blind as well. He just didn't have time for that kind of thing,” Hale said, naming women musicians that had performed in major roles in previous jazz festival concerts.

Maurizio Ortolani spoke from the heart about his ongoing professional relationship and personal friendship with Emond over the years.

“He was a friend like you only have a couple in your life, to me. In many ways he was a musical Dad to me. He taught me how to approach music in a lot of ways... He could talk to youth, he could engage with youth, he identified with youth. The breadth of his musical knowledge as well as the depth of his musical knowledge is something that youth clicked into. In that way he was a bridge to all kinds of jazz that we wouldn't have otherwise entertained. His curiosity fueled our curiosity.”

Besides the friends who appeared on-air, Emond's wife, Cecile, and other members of his family journeyed to CKCU to be present during the live broadcast, as well as many other friends who stayed for part or all of the broadcast.

“The disappearance from the Ottawa Jazz Scene by Jacques Emond leaves an enormous void to be filled by the remaining Ottawa jazz fans, musicians and media,” said Ron Sweetman, closing the show. “Here are some suggestions on what we can do,” he added, identifying specific ways that jazz lovers could continue to remember and honour Jacques Emond.

Among those was the specific suggestion to to check out our listings and “get out and support live jazz gigs, preferably taking a friend with you.”

And when you do, you might imagine Jacques Emond sitting at the table next to you, totally intent and taking it all in. Just listening.

    – Brett Delmage

These written excerpts and photos can't fully convey feelings for Jacques Emond that participants expressed during the tribute show. Just like jazz, the closer you get to it, the better it is. Listen to the complete show including music chosen by the guests on the Internet at cod.ckcufm.com/programs/player.raw.html?id=10679

Read OttawaJazzScene's story about Jacques Emond's decades-long contributions to building Ottawa's jazz community.

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Click any thumbnail to view a larger image.