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Looking For Ms Good-Jazz

Eleanor Collins, 1952 CBC Radio Vancouver
(CBC Archives Vancouver, courtesy of Eleanor Collins’ personal collection)

With the advent of the modern podcast, radio is changing rapidly and becoming more convenient with shows being recorded and archived permanently for the convenience of the listener. The podcasting of radio programs allows a listener to hear a radio show anytime on the internet. It is as easy as a few clicks on your phone and you can enter a fascinating world of culture and media.

As a child of 5 years old, I was already listening to radio and the hits of the day. As a teenager, I listened to CBC’s Peter Gzowski in the mornings for years in Toronto. I began listening to university radio in Toronto and would also tune in to the amazing broadcasts coming through at night from Buffalo and parts of New York. Sounds of New York gospel choirs, Buffalo jazz artists and Toronto’s jazz broadcaster Ted O’Reilly and more came through on my trusty shiny red dual-cassette tape deck and radio. I used to use my handy dualcassette machine to create tracks for recording with two or three tape recorders, my homemade version of a multi-track recorder as a kid.

When travelling Europe in my youth, I accessed the radio and particularly enjoyed listening to radio in different travel destinations around the world. The internet now allows you to tune in anywhere anytime. You can, with a good search, sample independent, community and university radio from countries all over the planet.

Independent radio is my favorite way of accessing media. In fact, the television for me has become only a tool for extreme weather reporting and not a tool for media so much anymore. I never imagined I would host or produce a radio program, as I had been a musician all of my life and had pursued performance and writing for many years. I ended up doing less guitar playing due to physical injuries and more volunteer live radio and then eventually global radio podcasts.

I have been hosting and producing a modern jazz radio show as a volunteer at a non-profit university and community radio station CHLY 101.7 FM in Nanaimo, Canada. The radio program is called ‘Rhythm’a’ning’ and has aired for over 12 years. The show has been podcasted for over 3 years to a global audience online and is broadcasted every Monday at 5-7 pm to most of the west coast of British Columbia and Upper Washington, USA, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The radio program and podcast has focused largely on new jazz and improvised music releases from the CHLY music library and interviews of some of the most brilliant BC musicians. I originally aired the show at CFUV in Victoria, BC years ago and I brought it to Nanaimo, BC with me.

Volunteer radio allows me to broadcast innovative improvisatory art music from Vancouver that would never air at a commercial radio station. In fact, very few commercial stations broadcast jazz any more. Jazz broadcasting is becoming more limited to university, community and public radio.

Recently, I arranged for an interview with American documentary filmmaker Judy Chaikin. Her film on early jazz-women in America documents important historical information never seen before in one film and also offers portraits of modern-day jazzwomen.

Circa 1955 the “Eleanor” show
(CBC Archives Vancouver, courtesy of Eleanor Collins’ personal collection)

Footage for the film was gathered over 5 years from locations all over the United States and truly was a labour of love by all involved with the film. I decided to do a special feature on early jazz-women from the 1920s-50s as a radio show episode. I entered the challenge of trying to track down information and recordings from Canada of our early jazz-women and rapidly slammed into a brick wall.

Try finding any information on early women in jazz from Canada before 1960 online and you will encounter very little. No obvious recordings, no Youtube videos, empty Google searches and a tragedy for the women of Canada. Few recording opportunities were available in Canada compared to our American neighbours during the early periods and what opportunities were available were more accessible to men than women.

Ragtime pianist Vera Guilaroff is a wonderful example of a great Canadian female musician with her 1926 piano performance of Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. Where did all the female instrumentalists from the 1920s-50s go? Where is the documentation? I am always looking for more recordings. Female musicians have always existed and they always will. With few commercial recording facilities existing in Canada before 1960, and the fact of scholars and historians not deeming the documentation of women as important due to the sentiments at the time, it has become a sad day for Canadian women.

I consulted with experts on the availability of Canadian women in early jazz recordings, only to find a huge gap in Canadian history and was told there was nothing or very little. But I could not take no for an answer. I began consulting with Archives Canada and discovered a record label called ‘Gala Records’ that had good anthology recordings of early Canadian female vocalists, but still came up empty for the show episodes for recordings of Canadian women in early jazz recordings from various sources.

I have been on a quest for recordings and names of our early 1920s-50s Canadian women musicians and vocalists. It is very important that documentation occurs of women’s music history and the gathering of the information into one place. It is our heritage.

Enter two record collectors from Nanaimo from CHLY 101.7 FM, Nanaimo: Tom Roden from the CHLY 101.7 FM radio show ‘What’s Next’ and Gordon Theedom from the CHLY program ‘Music from the Past’—two brilliant and creative men in their 80s who took pity on my dilemma and scoured their collections for jazz-women and rare recordings. They had fantastic American recordings but again very few female Canadian recording artists except for Dal Richards and Mart Kenney with their female vocalists and a few others like Juliette. We agreed to do a coproduction with their rarer recordings and they provided many of these American recordings for the broadcasts.

Ruth Lowe circa 1938-41
(courtesy of Ruth Lowe estate)

Beautiful early recordings emerged from the depths of their collections including Ina Ray Hutton’s “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, Phil Spitalny’s Hour of Charm Orchestra with “Blue Skies” from 1947, Fannie Brice and Helen Morgan from the 1920s, Billie Holiday, Mary Lou Williams with all-star female bands and even Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol. It was complete heaven for me and I even had the privilege of seeing the rare 1947 Phil Spitalny Hour of Charm all-female orchestra picture record “Blue Skies”. This ‘Vogue’ record has a wonderfully exquisite picture of a 1940s stylish woman in a long flowing gown and is a picture that depicts the 1940s glamour and fashion styles that fans love and treasure.

It was amazing to hear Tom and Gord talk about the recordings from their collections, and with their photographic memories, full details were provided for recordings. It was a wonderful experience working with them. They recounted some great Canadian and American history and I took notes.

The first broadcast is entitled “Judy Chaikin interview-She Jazz: The 1920s-50s - Part One” and the second show in the podcast series is “She Jazz: Bonus Tracks - Part Two”. Both shows feature music co-production with collaboration of myself and Nanaimo broadcasters/producers Tom Roden and Gordon Theedom and Oshawa’s David Lennick. Toronto broadcaster Ted O’Reilly provided help for the second show and I can not thank all of these producers/broadcasters enough for their help. As a result, some recordings have resurfaced and are documented now for podcast.

I corresponded with Canadian Antique Phonograph Society member Mike Bryan and he was so helpful and put me in touch with some fantastic people from his society including David Lennick, a radio broadcaster and producer who has been restoring recordings for major record labels in recent years. David Lennick was extremely kind and generously restored a badly cracked shellac recording of “I Did Not Know What Time It Was”, from 1949, of Toronto jazz vocalist Phyllis Marshall, especially for the special broadcast.

This Phyllis Marshall recording is very eccentric in that it features the non-traditional jazz instrument the accordion paired up with clarinet and bass. The recording showcases Marshall in her early years and is a true gem of a find. Huge thanks to David Lennick for this incredible work. David Lennick will be on ‘Rhythm’a’ning’ April 22, 2013 at 8 PM EST/5 PM PST to do a feature on some of the recordings from his extensive collection.

With a jazz community across Canada and many people willing to help thanks to e-mail communication, these radio shows became collaborations and truly a team effort of east and west in Canada. That in itself was fantastic. Research assistance was obtained from Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Nanaimo. A special thanks to Eleanor Collins and the Collins family, documentary film maker Judy Chaikin, Mike Bryan, Richard Green, Jean Pierre Sevigny from ‘Gala Records’, Judith Maxie, Tom Sandler, Jack Litchfield, Ken Puley and Alan Matheson. A huge thank you to Oshawa’s David Lennick and Toronto’s Ted O’Reilly for helping track down some great material and for going the extra mile. I can not thank co-producers Tom Roden and Gord Theedom enough for assisting with music and for sharing their expertise. Everyone involved has been so wonderful and I am grateful.

Kerilie McDowall (author) and Eleanor Collins
(photo by Judith Maxie)

As a result of my research I decided I wanted to feature more information on our important early Canadian jazz-women. I made contact with Tom Sandler, son of important jazz composer and pianist Ruth Lowe, and he will be on the show March 18, 2013 to talk about his gifted mother, 1930s and 40s composer/pianist/ broadcaster Ruth Lowe.

Ruth Lowe was an incredible talent. Lowe’s powerful 1939 composition “I’ll Never Smile Again” has been recorded now over 100 times by different musical artists and has won an American Grammy Award. Ruth Lowe performed and toured with American great Ina Ray Hutton and is an important part of Canadian jazz-women history and we will hear about her fascinating story on the show in future on March 25, 2013 at 8 pm Eastern Standard Time and 5:00 pm Pacific Standard Time.

One of my exciting finds was discovering the 1950s jazz videos online of Vancouver’s Eleanor Collins at Jazz Street Vancouver. Jazz vocalist Eleanor Collins was the first musical artist in Canada to have had a national television show named for her in 1955 called the ‘Eleanor’ show. Her music career and appearances began in the early days at CBC in the 1940s on radio and television and lasted for many decades with CBC, with a long and wonderful career.

Collins was a very strong performer and had much natural musical and vocal talent. She was also charismatic, elegant, beautiful and glamorous. Her television show aired in the 1950s during an oppressive period for artists of colour. The ‘Eleanor’ show helped to break down barriers for performers and Canadians from diverse cultural backgrounds.

An interesting fact is that Collins’ television program preceded Nat King Cole’s 1956 television show. It has been said Nat King Cole was the first artist of colour to host a national TV show. It appears however that perhaps that honour should be given to a Canadian who is also a woman. If I am correct, the ‘Eleanor’ show may have been the first television show in North America to be hosted by a black artist.

The research on my shows on jazz-women led me to have the opportunity to interview 93 year-old Vancouver jazz great vocalist Eleanor Collins at her home in Vancouver. It was absolutely wonderful to meet with Eleanor Collins and hear about some great Vancouver jazz and CBC broadcasting history, about her career and thoughts. She is a fantastically brilliant woman and possesses such serious talent that you will not want to miss the upcoming podcast. Be sure to check it out.

This type of interview, with a jazz great like Eleanor Collins, allows for historical and educational information to be documented for Canadians and allows for a true legend in the Canadian vocal world to reach new fans. The interview and podcast with livestream aired February 4, 2013 at CHLY 101.7 FM. The twopart show is available via these links: Part One and Part Two.

Many interesting North Americans have been part of or behind the scenes on this special broadcast and podcast on early North American jazzwomen. This special series is one of my more interesting endeavours. It has been completely captivating and very rewarding. The shows have sparked much interest from both men and women and have been a pleasure to bring to you.

Listen to the ‘Rhythm’a’ning’ two-part She Jazz podcast episodes on early jazz-women at: Judy Chaikin interview - Part One and Judy Chaikin interview - Part Two.

Listen to over 100 posted ‘Rhythm’a’ning’ podcasts at: Rhythm'a'ning and By Rhythmaning - Kerilie McDowall, Nanaimo, BC, Canada

‘Rhythm’a’ning’ is a modern jazz and improvised music show. Montreal jazz master and guitar legend Sonny Greenwich was recently on the show for an in-depth interview on January 21, 2012. To hear the new releases and creative innovation from our west coast BC musicians, listen to the livestream on Mondays from 5-7 pm PST at CHLY 101.7 FM or check out the podcasts.

For ‘Rhythm’a’ning’ show news and interviews and a variety of jazz and improvised music podcasts, visit Rhythmaning.ca or iTunes. For more music be sure to check out the wide array of CHLY 101.7 FM’s podcasts from other CHLY programs at CHLY 101.7 FM. If in BC, listen in on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver and Upper Washington, USA, at 101.7 FM. Over 100 episodes are available on podcast brought to you by CHLY 101.7 FM and ‘Rhythm’a’ning’ host Kerilie McDowall. Regular new episodes are available for free download weekly.

Free subscriptions are available to all podcasted CHLY shows anytime and anywhere. CHLY is a fantastic little radio station that thrives thanks to the community, global listeners and Vancouver Island University students in Nanaimo, BC, Canada, and listeners like you.