Ron Sweetman at 2008 Ottawa Jazz Festival. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2008
Ron Sweetman at 2008 Ottawa Jazz Festival. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2008
Ever since the Ottawa Jazz Festival started in 1981, Ron Sweetman has been giving jazz listeners an advance taste of the best of the Festival.

And this Wednesday June 9 at 9 p.m. on radio station CKCU (93.1 FM), he'll again be presenting tracks from 22 jazz artists whom you should hear. They range from popular artists like Joe Lovano, Herbie Hancock, and Joshua Redman to less familiar ones like Manu Katche, Little Red Suitcase, and Eric Boeren.

Sweetman's weekly jazz radio show, In a Mellow Tone, started in 1976, five years before the Festival. He supported the festival from the "very first day it existed", and was part of the programming committee in its early days.

How does his Festival highlights show help jazz listeners? "I think there are often names with which they're not familiar, ... probably only known by the inner core of jazz fans. ... Let's take a group like Mostly Other People Do the Killing, who, despite their horrible name, are among my favourite artists. They were voted as such by the Jazz Journalists Association, but they've never appeared on the Downbeat Readers' Poll. We need to tell people about these lesser-known, less-publicized talents. They issue their records on their own label, so they haven't got the budgets of Columbia behind them to make them well-known names."

"I call it an introductory program because, whilst I am playing some very well-known names like Dave Brubeck, I am playing other people who are distinctly less well-known. The two ladies called Little Red Suitcase, I've only known of them myself a matter of a few months."

Some of the music Sweetman will play is from CDs sent to him from distributors and individual musicians, in particular because of his known sympathy to avant-garde jazz. Occasionally the Festival can provide him with CDs as well.

He said the artists he featured were ones he was looking forward to, and by that same token, ones he would recommend people see. "It's the same criteria expressed in two terms. I always am somewhat of a bringer of good news; I like to share my enthusiasms with my listeners. Quite often people will go to things I suggested and come back saying I didn't know about him or her until I heard him or her on your program, and thank you for introducing me. So I don't play anybody on my program that I don't recommend people go and hear."

On the other hand, he hastened to say, he also likes many Festival artists whom he won't be including because he can't squeeze them in. Of the 200-odd artists appearing at the 2010 Festival, he said, there would only be about half a dozen he wouldn't bother to go hear.

He is "very enthusiastic" about this year's programming, as he was in 2009. "I have people across the country who said to me. 'Your Ottawa Jazz Festival is much better than our local Festival.'"

He said he'd never heard trumpeter Etienne Charles or clarinetist Anat Cohen live, and was looking forward to hearing them. "Robert Glasper is always a joy to hear. The Globe Unity Project should be terrific." He expected that John Scofield playing gospel blues with his Piety Street Band "is going to be amazing." He also recommended Joe Lovano, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman, Fred Hersch, Tom Harrell, and Christian Scott.

There's so much good music going on during the festival, he said, that "my wife gives up on me. She sees me [only] at breakfast for two weeks."

Sweetman said he hopes the show will be a reminder to jazz fans to study the Festival schedule for themselves. "I find that even jazz fans whom I speak to still haven't got their heads around who will be playing. They know the Festival is coming, but they haven't sat down and looked at the schedule."

And how can fans follow up on artists they liked from Sweetman's show? "By buying the tickets and getting their little bums in the seats," he urges. Before the festival, they could hunt up the artists' CDs in local record stores, or search the web.

Sweetman also does preview shows for the jazz festivals in Victoriaville, Quebec and in Guelph each year. He will also have a guest host do a preview for Bluesfest on June 30.

In a Mellow Tone is broadcast every Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m. on CKCU-FM (93.1 FM in Ottawa). It's also streamed on the Internet at .

  – Alayne McGregor

View the playlist of Sweetman's upcoming shows and access a link to the In a Mellow Tone blog and other jazz radio shows on our Ottawa Jazz Radio Shows page.