Nova Scotia

'I'm changed': CBC producer Jeff Reilly speaks on a life in music ahead of retirement

CBC producer Jeff Reilly had his sendoff Saturday during an episode of East Coast Music Hour — a show he's produced since its inception in 2014.

'I had to let go of my own preconceived ideas,' Reilly said of the lessons he learned

A man is seen with a large smile on his face and arms lifted. He's standing in front of a stage on which a group of musicians stand.
During his more than 30 years with CBC, Jeff Reilly produced thousands of hours of radio programming and four multi-episode documentaries on issues in contemporary music. (Omar Broderick)

After more than 30 years with CBC producing more than 6,000 hours of radio programming, Jeff Reilly says the most important thing he learned during his time with the organization is how to sit back and let the music speak for itself.

"The CBC isn't just one person … it's an idea that we all participate in," Reilly said.

"I had to let go of my own preconceived ideas. I had to get my ego out of the way and commit to the thing, to the idea."

Reilly had his sendoff Saturday during an episode of the East Coast Music Hour — a show he's produced since its inception in 2014. Host Bill Roach spoke with the veteran producer about his time at CBC and his plans for the future.

"We've recorded music in all four Atlantic provinces, we've seen live music at festivals and community churches," Roach said. "We've been everywhere."

Standout work and performances

Reilly said a performance that stood out to him over the eight years was one by Jeremy Dutcher, a Canadian composer and member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. Dutcher's debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, won him the Polaris Music Prize in 2018.

Two men, Bill Roach and Jeff Reilly, stand together on a sidewalk with their arms around each other facing the camera.
Bill Roach, left, and Jeff Reilly. (East Coast Music Hour Facebook)

Reilly said Dutcher's performance at CBC's Studio 60 in Halifax was one he had long anticipated.

"It took us almost two years to get him into the studio and by that time he was getting to be pretty famous," he said. "[He] sat down at the piano, started playing the piano, opened his mouth and I said, 'Yes, this is the guy.'"

Reilly said he was particularly proud of the work he produced over the last few years and during the COVID-19 pandemic with The Story and The Song — an East Coast Music Hour series that asks some of the region's brightest musicians to perform a song based on a single word, like "trust," "lost" or "courage."

The concert series was originally held live and in person, but with gathering limits imposed during the pandemic, Reilly said the performances had to take on a new form.

"We decided that we would do this differently," he said. "We would actually ask people to record their songs in their home or in a studio that they could get into safely. We still did the one word theme, but we commissioned original songs."

Some of those artists and original songs include works inspired by the word "Lost" by Erin Costelo and Alicia Toner, and "Trust" by King Sway and Raymond Sewell.

"During the pandemic, we've gotten at least 40 original songs," said Roach. "How weird has that been, that for the last two years of your tenure here in the CBC Music Department … that you've only met these artists over Zoom?"

Reilly replied that working within the constraints presented by the pandemic created a unique space in which the artists and producers he worked with could explore and gave the CBC Music department more flexibility.

"Normally, we bring people here and put them in Studio 60, so we only can do one at a time, right? Well, we had every band member recording in their own homes at once," Reilly said.

"I was getting stuff from all over the place all the time, giving feedback on sessions and so on. … I think it paid off in terms of the quality of the output."

Beyond the CBC

Reilly's relationship to music runs deeper than his work with the CBC. He's produced more than 300 concert recordings of classical jazz, contemporary and world music and more than 70 studio sessions.

As a musical artist and bass clarinetist, he's recorded music with national and international labels, performed with choirs, orchestras and chamber groups. He's also received two Juno nominations, four East Coast Music Award nominations and one ECMA win.

In his retirement, Reilly said he plans to get back to his own music and help others pursue their musical endeavours.

He'll take lessons learned during his more than three decades at the CBC into the next phase of his life.

"I guess I get to indulge in my own ego and do my own music, but I'm changed, permanently," he said. "I still want to work with other musicians and make other musicians sound good, as opposed to just thinking about myself."

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