Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

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Listen Up: Classic 107

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For several years now, jazz lovers in Winnipeg have been piecing together the news about jazz through occasional reviews in the newspaper, chatter on social media, and this magazine. Now, every evening of the week we’ll get the sound of jazz on Winnipeg’s newest radio station, Classic 107FM. It’s an exciting time for us here in the Jazz Capital of Canada!

The station features classical music and jazz, and program director Eric Friesen sees a natural symbiosis there: “both genres have influenced each other, and continue to do so,” he says. “Both are severely underserved by mainstream broadcast media, and there’s significant crossover in their listening audiences.”

Under Eric’s watch, the station will bring the whole world of classical and jazz music to Winnipeg listeners, but it will also become the go-to source for what’s happening in Winnipeg’s vibrant arts and culture scene. “As a cultural broadcaster, I am thrilled that this old form of radio is still seen as a viable medium for something other than perishable pop music and news,” he says. “There is life in classical and jazz broadcasting, and Winnipeg is the most fertile soil in Canada for such a venture.”

Jazz listeners will be happy to know that Classic 107 will air an eclectic mix of jazz each day from 9:00 pm til midnight. The weekday host is Neil Coligan, a jazz enthusiast and long-time supporter of the local scene. His vision for “Jazz After Nine” (“I know,” he says, “it’s not the most original name, but people will be able to find us!”) is a mix of styles and eras, with a strong connection to the local community.

“The mandate of the station is to be strong in the community,” Neil says. “I want to get exposure for many more local artists, to play their music but also to have them come in and chat about their work. We want to give local musicians some prominence, not just have them buried in the playlist.”

Neil is already making good on that promise: on the second day of programming, he had an on-air chat with bassist Devon Gillingham, the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra’s featured artist for their December concerts. Devon has just begun his studies at the New School in New York City, and the WJO performed two of his original compositions. He’s one of Winnipeg’s newest jazz ambassadors, and just the kind of talent Neil wants to showcase.

Having a radio station with this kind of vision puts into place one more piece of the puzzle in our local jazz community. As I’ve said before, jazz is a special art form because it expresses the particular voice of a people and a place. We have an amazing number of jazz artists here who are really flourishing. They’re out there performing, recording, studying, composing—doing their thing not just locally but also nationally and internationally. Hearing those talented local voices reflected back to us through this medium is going to give us all a clearer sense of our own identity, and help us understand and recognize the northern prairie sound.

At the same time, both “Jazz After Nine” and its weekend counterpart, “Le Baiser Salé,” hosted by Roxane Gagné, will have a varied playlist, and that’s important too. For one thing, jazz has such high-level practitioners all over the globe, and an important history of major innovators who have helped it grow and stay vibrant since its inception just over a century ago. Becoming familiar with that context is an essential part of developing a full understanding of what’s involved in this art form.

As Neil puts it, “you’ll certainly hear Miles and Ella and Louis—these are the giants whose shoulders other artists stand on. When we’re listening to a groundbreaking artist like Robert Glasper or a newcomer like Devon Gillingham, we want to know who and what has influenced them, and listening to the pioneers helps us understand that.”

In these days when so much information—including music—is available online, the folks at Classic 107 still have a lot of faith in what radio has to offer. Search engines turn up the stuff that’s most popular or well-funded or cleverly tagged, Neil points out, but will rarely surprise you with the real gems. Radio is more like the old days of walking into a club or a record store and hearing something that blows you away, or running into somebody who can’t wait to tell you about somebody they’re listening to. “Discovery is amazing,” he says. He’s doing a lot of that himself these days, and is keen to share that experience with listeners.

I admit I have a soft spot for radio—it feels so personal but it’s also a shared experience. Jazz radio can go a long way toward making this amazing music more familiar, more integrated into this community. As Neil says, “jazz is a music that’s best heard live, but you need some experience with it in order to take that next step.”

Jazz is alive and well here in the heart of the country, and it’s time everybody hears about it—literally! Welcome to Winnipeg, Classic 107.

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