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Out Of The Oven, Into The Computer: 30 Years Of Canadian Jazz Concerts Now Free Online

Mark Sabbatini By

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Talk about jazz that really cooks: Thirty years of Canadian concerts are being offered free online by a Toronto radio station that made it possible by baking the original analogue tape reels.

The Canadian Jazz Archive at jazzarchive.ca features all of JAZZ-FM91's Sound Of Jazz concert series since they began in 1976, with performances in streaming audio by hundreds of national musicians and other materials such as documentaries about prominent artists. Jessica Humphreys, director of funding and community outreach for the station, said the concerts were played once and put into storage, but eventually there was a risk of losing them forever.

"The reels were disintegrating," she said.

The station got a grant from Canadian Heritage and began digitalizing the collection a year ago, Humphreys said. She said workers discovered it wasn't simply a matter of playing the reels into a computer.

"You need to remove the moisture," she said. "The only way to do that is in a dehydrator. So I think we bought the Jerky 2000."

Preparing the reels meant baking them for eight hours at a low temperature and letting them rest for 16 hours. Humphreys said the process ruins protective coating on the reels, although they will play perfectly once.

"They're pretty much ruined after that," she said, adding no reels were lost due to faulty computer transfers.

Humphreys said they also ran into some problems trying to transfer some concerts recorded on VHS tapes because the machine used was unique and had to be rebuilt so the tapes would play.

Musicians range from student bands to obscure local groups to stalwarts such as Diana Krall in a 1990 trio concert. The site also features photos and biographies for all of the concerts, a chronology of Canadian jazz, downloadable education materials, and seven documentaries about Canadian icons such as Lenny Breau, Rob McConnell, Jane Bunnett and Vic Vogel.

The concerts were recorded in an uncompressed digital format, preserving them at the best possible quality, before being compressed into MP3 audio for streaming, Humphreys said. She said offering downloadable files is not possible due to copyright restrictions. Also, broadcast requirements mean the audio must be compressed enough to be accessible by nearly any computer, including those with relatively slow dial-up internet connections, so they are less than CD quality.

The site was unveiled with a partial collection of the archive during the 2008 International Association Of Jazz Education conference in Toronto in January, with the official launch scheduled in February.

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