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CBC Radio 2: Tonic

New jazz offering creates a graceful ambience that is inviting

By Peter Woods

Daily 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Hosted by Katie Malloch (weekdays) and Tim Tamashiro (weekends)

Jazz gets a bad rap. Some say there are too many notes. Others say the improvisations stray too far from melody and conventional harmony.

In truth, jazz is an enormous conversation. Louis Armstrong tells a story and Ornette Coleman replies; Ella Fitzgerald offers an aside as Chet Baker, Stan Getz and Billie Holiday hold forth. Ideas are added, conventions challenged, elders respected and boundaries pushed. I am struck by the similarity between conversations among jazzers and those among worship leaders.  Certainly jazz music and church life share a similar set of polarities: honouring tradition and embracing innovation. Good jazz musicians and healthy spiritual communities are able to do both.

Then along comes Tonic, CBC’s latest offering as part of this jazz conversation. It is hosted by one of the veteran jazz presenters in this country, Katie Malloch, and by the fine Canadian jazz vocalist Tim Tamashiro. Malloch and Tamashiro lead us away from the more obscure side of jazz, focusing on recognizable melodies performed by famous musicians, with lots of Canadians in the mix.

 Alongside all of this, there is a wide swath of Latin and world-based jazz that is very hip and very approachable. Malloch and Tamashiro have assembled great recordings by vital artists, showcasing the classic repertoire. From Summertime to Stars Fell on Alabama to Nature Boy, the songs are performed by hugely influential talents such as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Sarah Vaughan, as well as contemporary Canadians such as Diana Krall, Mike Murley and Jake Langley. It all provides a finely tuned entry point into the jazz world. The performers exemplify that gift of great artistry: to make something dauntingly complex sound elegantly simple.

Tonic provides a fine blend of music as night falls. It is easy to let it accompany the breaking of bread, perhaps the opening of a chilled bottle of wine. The repertoire and the commentary, like a good liturgical setting, create a graceful ambience that is inviting rather than domineering. The mood is light and the tone is right. In the words so famously sung by Billie Holiday, “T’ain’t nobody’s business if I do.”

Peter Woods is a minister at Trinity United in Smiths Falls, Ont. and a jazz saxophonist.
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