Believe it or not, there are times when I can momentarily forget about the unique and fascinating history of CKUA.
I guess we all get caught up in the day-to-day missions and duties that our particular positions call for, until one bumps into John Worthington during one of his early evening editing sessions on the fifth floor, or perhaps someone mentions that Holger Petersen’s new book Conversations In Music includes interviews with a couple of musicians he has known for decades, and one finds himself locked in “the moment.”
Sometimes the reminders of what has transpired within this historic radio network are not the kind you look forward to. Those specific reminders are more often than not attached to the passing of someone who perhaps played a memorable role in promoting CKUA, or an individual who added expertise and spice to some exceptional programming of a particular era.
CKUA staffers and volunteers were recently reminded of the passionate commitment to the network with the recent passing of Dick Crawshaw who was a “poster guy” of the CKUA volunteer team for a number of years. Somehow slapping the tag poster "boy” on Dick doesn’t quite work for me.
I was also reminded of the fact that dozens and dozens of characters have walked these halls and sidled up to microphones in the broadcast booths, when an old high school pal called me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that his father had passed away in New Brunswick.
Dean Reeves was on the other end of the line letting me know that John Reeves, one of the most knowledgeable jazz violin aficionados had passed away at the age of 89.
We’re not talking about “the most knowledgeable aficionado” in western Canada, when Reeves called Manitoba and then Alberta home during the sixties through the mid-eighties. This man was respected around the globe for his knowledge and understanding of the idiom and he was only too happy to be a disciple for the music created by the likes of Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti and so many others who pioneered jazz violin and the sub-genres that were inspired by those masters.
“Dad first heard jazz programming in England on the wireless and was taken with Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. He was also loved swing music,” says Dean of his father, who emigrated from England to Winnipeg in 1956 with his wife Ivy, when Dean was all of two years old.
Once in Winnipeg, Reeves started rebuilding his record collection and by the early sixties he was a regularly guest on a nationally broadcast CBC jazz program hosted by Gren Marsh.
“Marsh would get Dad talking about what he was collecting and they’d play material from Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti and Stuff Smith and they’d let people know about who was recording with who, things like that. Listeners wanted to know who “this guest guy” was, and before long he was corresponding with people in Germany, Brazil, the UK and the US. These were all collectors who were swapping stuff, live tapes and such.”
By 1968 the Reeves family had moved to Edmonton and the dials on the radios in the Reeves home were all but welded to CKUA. Before long the jazz violin enthusiast had connected with Bill Coull and Kellogg Wilson who were hosting some of the most in-depth music programs in the country.
Like most members of the CKUA family, Reeves had ears that were open to a lot of fresh sounds and if he wasn’t home to press the record button on his reel-to-reel tape machine, family members were given strict directives to make sure Coull’s daily show, HP Sauce and other programs were ready for him to absorb when he got home.
It wasn’t long before Reeves was invited to sit in on shows hosted by Coull, Wilson and Marc Vasey where he’d muse about what was on his radar or what classic release needed to be revisited.
“Dad always had an ear for the contemporary stuff as well, even though he had amassed a giant gypsy jazz collection. He was always interested in what was coming around the corner in the world of violin whether it be Jean Luc Ponty, Michal Urbaniak, Dave Swarbrick from Fairport Convention, Richard Greene, or David LaFlamme from It’s A Beautiful Day,” recalls son Dean, who was doing his own noon time radio shows at Victoria Composite High School when I met him 40 years ago this fall.
While all this was going on, John’s brother David had connected with Grappelli at Ronnie Scott’s club in London England and told him about his sibling in Canada. Suddenly the jazz legend was in contact with John who had long dreamed of bringing Grappelli and his group to the Canadian prairies.
After a few phone calls and additional correspondence by letter, John Reeves had been hooked up to Grappelli’s people and the wheels were in motion to bring the man who set the bar for jazz violin to our part of the world for the first time.
As I sit here writing this blog/column, I can’t help but look to my right and stare at a Stephane Grappelli concert poster hanging on my CKUA office wall announcing two shows at SUB Theatre in the Student’s Union Building at the U of A. May 29, 7 and 9:30, 1984, which I believe was the third time Grappelli made his way to Edmonton. Tickets were sold at BASS outlets and the violinist’s quartet included a brilliant and young guitarist named Martin Taylor.
“The first time Stephane came out to the prairies was ’74 and Dad helped set up three dates, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. He had dinner with us one night at the house and I remember Dad chauffeuring him around town in his ’68 Cutlass. Tires squealing as usual,” says Reeves with a laugh.
“It was winter and cold and we took him to the Black Sheep Boutique where Stephane bought a full length rabbit skin coat. He came back in ’78 and I sat in the audience and produced a lot of sketches from that performance.”
The bond between the senior Reeves and Grappelli was cemented for keeps and the violinist would send postcards to his friend from all over the world, as well as birthday cards right up until his death in the late nineties.
For Dean Reeves, the memories connected to his father’s passion are endless and include an introduction to Sugarcane Harris backstage at the old Edmonton Gardens when the jazz and r&b violinist was touring with John Mayall in the early seventies.
“I think about dad guesting frequently on Bill Coull’s CKUA jazz show and the two of them heading off to the Corona Hotel for a few drinks afterward and the conversations about music continuing long after the microphones were turned off.”
Come to think of it, Dean and I might have been two blocks west of the Corona on Jasper on those same evenings listening to a blues or folk act in The Hovel.
“John’s passion for the music was there until the end. It wasn’t that long ago that he received a note from the great young jazz violinist Regina Carter and another from her manager,” added his son, who continues to make contributions of his own to the world of art in a number of capacities, including creating an impressive body of work as a painter.
John Reeves and his wife Ivy moved to rural New Brunswick in 1985, and brought with them all those reel-to-reel tapes of CKUA shows recorded in the seventies. I can imagine John threading a reel of tape that contained a Bill Coull program to an empty spool, and before hitting the play button, smiling, and being reminded of the friendships and camaraderie that are born out of the common love of timeless music, great musicians, and brilliant performances.