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Alain de Grosbois' passion for jazz leaves lasting legacy in Montreal

02/04/2015 03:57 EST | Updated 04/06/2015 05:59 EDT
Alain de Grosbois could see through the edifice of live performance and into the spirit of a musician.

“He was so appreciative of the musicians, so open about his admiration of them and so creative of how he spoke of them,” said Katie Malloch, former host of CBC Radio’s Jazz Beat, the show she and de Grosbois founded in 1983.

Malloch remembered watching a recording of L’orchestre sympathique with de Grosbois for the show when she noticed him taking particular note of the bulky vibraphone player.

“‘Look at Jean [Vanasse],’ he said. ‘He’s built like a bouncer but plays like a ballet dancer,’” Malloch recalled.

“Alain wasn’t worrying about the sound, how long the piece was running.  He was lost in admiration for the musicians.”

De Grosbois, a long-time CBC producer, died last week of cancer at age 67.

He left CBC more than a decade ago, eager to enjoy the freedom of retirement.

'Gallant, loving cause of making jazz'

A musician himself,  Malloch says de Grosbois learned flute so he could play lullabies to his babies.  

He had endless admiration for the commitment of musicians like Vic Vogel to the big band.

 “A good way to stay up late and lose money”, Malloch said. “He admired the gallant, loving cause of making jazz.”

De Grosbois was one of the founders of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.  

“Without him, the festival would never have taken off,” says Alain Ménard co-founder of the festival in told La Presse.

De Grosbois was a coordinating producer for live recordings at Radio-Canada and CBC Radio so he had a big impact on the reputation and income of Canadian jazz musicians.

"When the festival started in 1980 we had no grants and the money to pay the musicians came from the CBC recording budgets," Menard said.

De Grosbois came to CBC Radio in Montreal after working as a jazz and pop music producer in Vancouver at a time when the corporation did a lot of live recordings.

Jazz Beat

In Montreal, de Grosbois pitched a new national jazz program that would broadcast original recordings of one Canadian group and one international group every week, and package the show with interviews with the musicians.   

“It was seen as a very creative way to introduce groups that were working on the jazz scene across Canada,” Malloch said.

She still remembers the pilot for Jazz Beat. It featured Wynton Marsalis at the Montreal Jazz Festival and Mister Toad’s Wild Ride, a band from Alberta who took their name from the novel, The Wind in the Willows.

“The show gave jazz fans and musicians a chance to hear what was being done in places they couldn’t get to. It also gave the musicians a recording of themselves that they could lease back and use as a first CD.”  

De Grosbois “loved and respected the musicians” said Malloch. He felt they deserved to be well recorded and presented.

“He gave them great sound and a great studio experience,” she said. “For many of the musicians it was their first studio experience.”

De Grosbois retired at 54.

He learned to play golf, fished, boated and enjoyed his free time. He always figured he didn’t want to be one of the people who retired at 65 and died a couple of years later, Malloch said.

Tributes from the jazz community have poured in on a Facebook page created by Toronto music critic Mark Miller.

De Grosbois is survived by his partner, Diane Lynch and his sons Olivier and Antoine.

Funeral services will take place on Saturday, Feb. 7 at Église Sainte-Anne-de-Varennes, 30 rue de la Fabrique in Varennes.  

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