Starting this week, Jeff Healey puts down his six-string guitar to do some heavy breathing for the folks out there in Vacuumland, as the great CBC announcer Allan McFee used to call Canada's radio listeners.
This Friday sees the return of Healey to the people's airwaves with the revival, on CBC Radio Two, of My Kinda Jazz,the oldies-but-goodies program he started in 1991. It's just the latest in a continuing series of projects for a man for whom music -- playing it, listening to it, organizing it, financing it, tracking it down -- is like candy to the proverbial baby.
Most people, of course, recognize Healey for his contributions to the world of pop rock-blues, with five albums under his belt -- including the latest Get Me Some -- the role of a guitarist in a house band for the 1989 movie Road House; and a performance by the Jeff Healey Band on the short-lived television series Baywatch Nights.
But jazz is a lifelong passion. On most Thursdays when he is not touring, you'll find Healey at the Courthouse Chamber Lounge in downtown Toronto listening and playing, although he admits to not getting out as much as he would like.
His interest in the idiom dates to his formative early teen years. He says he started to "seriously" collect jazz albums at the age of 11. And in 1980, he began hosting a jazz segment for the CBC after attending an open house for the broadcaster where vibraphonist Peter Appleyard convinced the people at the radio program Fresh Air to put the then-14-year-old Healey on the air after discussing jazz with him.
"He told them to put me on the air because he said how many people at 14 years of age know or care that much about jazz?" said Healey, who is now 34.
The rest is sort of history. Every two weeks, Healey would go into the studio and spin some discs from his personal collection. He continued until there was a personnel change at Fresh Air. Healey searched for another outlet for his interest, and soon he was hosting a jazz program on the University of Toronto campus radio station, CIUT. But he wanted to do more. In 1991 he began to lobby CBC program directors who eventually agreed and once again, he was playing early jazz tracks from his collection of albums for a national audience.
The program, titled My Kinda Jazz,was originally slated as a one-time summer fill-in. But response was favourable, and he was asked to return the next season, and then the one after that, and so on. However, cutbacks and management shakeups as the public broadcaster yet again threw a shadow over the project, and in the mid-1990s the show was put on hold indefinitely.
That hiatus is now over. Since last signing off, Healey's collection of music has swelled to include 24,000 78s and 2,000 CDs and LPs. Many of these will undoubtedly be heard when My Kinda Jazz returns this week. My Kinda Jazz airs Friday at 10 p.m. as part of CBC Radio Two's series, Jazz Notes .