Katie Malloch prepares to retire from hosting CBC jazz radio shows for more than 35 years at her Montreal celebratory concert on Feb. 8. ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Katie Malloch prepares to retire from hosting CBC jazz radio shows for more than 35 years at her Montreal celebratory concert on Feb. 8. ©Brett Delmage, 2012
This is the final week on-air for long-time CBC announcer and Canadian jazz godmother Katie Malloch. To celebrate her more than three decades on-air, CBC organized three concerts in her honour in February, and the musicians she supported and the listeners she delighted came out in droves to attend.

The concerts are being broadcast on Tonic (8 to 10 p.m., CBC Radio 2) this week: Vancouver on Monday, Toronto on Tuesday, and Montreal on Wednesday.  On Thursday (her last night), one song from each concert will be played. OttawaJazzScene.ca attended the Montreal concert, and we've included a description and photos of the concert to allow you to fill in the gaps as you listen to CBC's recorded excerpts on Wednesday.

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Katie Malloch Farewell Concert #3
Lion d'Or, Montreal
Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Katie Malloch has made many jazz friends over her 35+ years as a CBC jazz radio host, and an amazing number of them crowded into the Lion d'Or to pay tribute to her on February 8, 2012.

It was the third farewell concert organized for her by CBC, following The Cellar in Vancouver on January 25 and the Rex in Toronto on February 1. The Lion d'Or, in east-end Montreal, is a venue less well-known for jazz than the other two clubs, but Montreal is Katie's hometown, and the better-known jazz venues like the Upstairs Club would have collapsed at the crowd.

And it had the slightly shabby-chic, comfy feel perfect for a concert that emphasized music over glitz. The Lion d'Or's Art Deco interior in red and gold warmed up the evening, and it also offered excellent sight lines despite the full house, a large stage, and a good sound system. That was important with the number of jazz musicians who had gathered to serenade Katie.

Central was Montreal trumpeter "Professor" Kevin Dean, who had been featured in recorded concerts many times on Jazz Beat, and his quintet: pianist André White, tenor saxophonist Janis Steprans, bassist Alec Walkington, and drummer Dave Laing (to whom Katie promptly added his nickname, "Scooter"). But equally important were the special guests: Toronto bassist Neil Swainson, Montreal guitarist Mike Rud, and Edmonton alto saxophonist P.J. Perry. Perry was a particularly lucky find: he was on tour across the U.S. with Come Fly Away, a Broadway musical dedicated to Frank Sinatra, and the musical happened to have a break perfectly timed for the concert.

The musical feel that evening was loose, hip, and bopping. The jazz was mainstream, in the best sense: musicians with decades of experience, comfortable playing together but pushing each other as well.

But fundamental to it all was Katie. The musicians on stage were ones she'd promoted and featured over the years, and many of the tunes in the set list were her requests.

CBC radio host Mike Finnerty started the evening by saying that Katie is "so much a part of who we are, our identity at CBC Montreal, that it's difficult to imagine what it's going to be like when she leaves us and when that voice goes off the air." He noted that her jazz host duties started with The Midnight Jazz in 1976 for four years, then Jazz Beat for 23 years, and finally Tonic starting in 2007. She was twice named Broadcaster of the year at the National Jazz Awards.

And then he introduced "a woman whose voice literally in Canada is synonymous with jazz", to wild applause.

Katie introduced the band, saying that she had chosen the bandleaders for all three concerts, including Dean, by looking for musicians who have "a sense of humour, and a sense of play and irony and poetry, and luckily there is almost nothing but those bandleaders in jazz across the country. It helps in jazz – which is not where the big money is – to have a sense of humour about life and music and people and love."

The set list was a mixture of originals and standards, many of which were chosen by Katie. They opened with two of her choices: a swinging "Funk in Deep Freeze" by Hank Mobley, followed by Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine". From the stage, Perry dedicated the song to Katie. He quoted the lyrics back to her: "I'm gonna love you like nobody loves you," and then played his heart out on the solos.

A fantastic opportunity

Perry's dedication was echoed by several of the other musicians. Kevin Dean started off the evening by saying he immediately became a Katie fan when he first came to Montreal and he heard her "very enthusiastic and chipper tones".

He said the musicians on stage calculated that "between us [we] have done well over a hundred Jazz Beat shows. It's been a fantastic opportunity for those of us at the time that were trying to find ways to have our original music be heard across the country. Every Sunday you could tune in and hear a brand-new band playing their music and Katie's voice there waving the flag for us. And we'll sure miss that, miss her doing that for us."

Mike Rud praised Katie and Jazz Beat and Tonic for connecting musicians across Canada and providing "the chief means by which artists in different cities knew about one other".

"Katie doesn't just play the music, though: she puts across that it's valuable. Clearly she values it herself; she seems to be possessed of a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Canadian jazz population. And her descriptions of its music have made players and audiences across Canada more aware of all the high-octane creative energy right here where we live. This enthusiasm is then channelled through that beautiful velvet voice. ... So thank you for sharing that voice with us, Katie, for sharing your beautiful personality and your insights into this music. And thank you for introducing us to the audience and the audience to us and all of us to one another."

It was a relaxed evening, with jokes (my favourite was the one about the psychiatrist and the couple who wouldn't talk), and reminiscences flying about, along with the infectious music. Rud said later that the concert was an "incredible experience ... even though I personally stress about a [concert] like that when you get with players that are as supportive as André White and Alec and Scooter, you'd have to suddenly come down with a rare neurological condition for your hands not to work. They make you play better. It was an absolute treat."

Musicians, fans, and family

The concert attracted local Montreal jazz musicians as well as fans, and even a few Ottawa musicians and listeners. Katie's husband, two daughters, brother, and mother were all present, and so were three of her four radio producers (the fourth, Claire Lawrence, was at the Vancouver concert). Alain de Grosbois, the originator of Jazz Beat, and Robert Rowat, her first Tonic producer, got to sit and listen, while her current Tonic producer, Scott Tresham, was responsible for recording the concert.

Before the last song, Katie thanked the musicians: "The ones you see before you represent the musicians who play jazz across the country and it's so wonderful that they are there and making music with love and humour and lots of perspiration and inspiration. Maybe more perspiration than inspiration."

And she didn't forget the audience. "All I do is get in between the people who make the music and the people who listen to it, and it's served me well for all these years. Thank you for being here. Thank you guys for being there because without both ends of the equation I wouldn't have had a job."

"It's bittersweet, but my refuge is always in the music."

It's not certain where jazz on CBC will be going in the next few years. CBC has announced that Katie will be replaced by Tim Tamashiro, who was holding down the Friday and Saturday slots on Tonic, and will now be broadcasting Tonic on Monday to Saturday on Radio 2, and on Sunday on Radio 1.

It just won't be the same.

    – Alayne McGregor

The full text of Mike Rud's tribute

"I'd like to thank Katie for being such a friend to Canadian jazz musicians. I don't know precisely when I first heard her, but I do remember that what struck me was that she played not only the well-known American jazz artists, but music by Canadian jazz musicians, the same ones that I was seeing on stages in my city. That was very special to me in terms of providing a sense of community. A Canadian jazz musician needs good tires on their car. My story's not unique, but in the last 20 years, I moved between Edmonton, Montreal, Victoria, Vancouver, and Ottawa. Apartments changed, scenery changed, but Katie's show provided a connection. On those shows I could hear Oliver Jones, P.J. Perry, Brad Turner, Tommy Banks, or Sonny Greenwich. Their music and Katie's voice helped to provide me with a sense of connection across the immense distances separating these great players. In talking to musicians in these places, I often found that Katie's show was the chief means by which artists in different cities knew about one other. Katie doesn't just play the music, though: she puts across that it's valuable. Clearly she values it herself; she seems to be possessed of a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Canadian jazz population. And her descriptions of its music have made players and audiences across Canada more aware of all the high-octane creative energy right here where we live. This enthusiasm is then channelled through that beautiful velvet voice. When I read Mordecai Richler's final novel, Barney's Version, Katie's was the voice I heard in my head as the on-air persona of Miriam, Barney's one great love. So thank you for sharing that voice with us, Katie, for sharing your beautiful personality and your insights into this music. And thank you for introducing us to the audience and the audience to us and all of us to one another. I think we needed that."

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