The Capital Builders: How Harvey Glatt brought culture to Ottawa’s ‘wasteland’

Jean-Marc Leger August 8, 2017 0
The Capital Builders: How Harvey Glatt brought culture to Ottawa’s ‘wasteland’

Harvey Glatt was fully expected to take over the family business.

The business was the Baker Brothers’ junkyard, the LeBreton Flats institution founded in the early 1900s by Glatt’s maternal grandfather and great-uncle.

By the time Glatt finished college in 1956, his father ran what was then the biggest junkyard in Ottawa, with a brisk trade in the recycling of metal, paper, rags, auto parts, tires and any other material of value. The newly minted business-admin graduate took a job at the company’s service station.

But it wasn’t long before another business was vying for his attention. Glatt and a former college roommate, Arnold Gosewich, opened Treble Clef, Ottawa’s first dedicated music store, in 1957. While other stores had music departments, Treble Clef was the first standalone shop in the city to sell records.

Harvey Glatt has been one of the most influential people in the Ottawa music business for over 50 years. (2008 photo) ERROL MCGIHON / POSTMEDIA

Within a year, his partner had moved on and Glatt left the recycling business to devote his energy to the business of selling music.

“My dad was a little sad but my mother said, ‘Let him do what he wants to do,’ ” recalled Glatt during an interview at his home, where he was recuperating from recent knee surgery.

The Treble Clef shop expanded, eventually into a 15-store chain, and inspired a handful of offshoot businesses, including a label, publishing company, distribution outlet, management office, concert-promotion firm and eventually an FM radio station.

A lifelong music fan, Glatt, 83, has not only helped the careers of many Canadian artists and music-industry entrepreneurs, but also has been a key factor in introducing Ottawans to a breathtaking array of entertainment, whether on stage, recording or radio. An interview with the Citizen was peppered with tales of rubbing shoulders with legendary acts including Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Frank Zappa, Paul Simon and Supertramp, to name a few.

Glatt’s interest in the business side of music can be traced to his early passion for radio. As a boy, he would pretend he was sick to stay home from school and listen to his favourite show, The Happy Gang. When pop radio caught his ear, Glatt started paying attention to the charts and reading trade magazines such as Billboard and Cashbox.

He learned a bit of ukulele from his father and took piano lessons, including a stretch of pop-piano lessons, from Wilt Stebner, the pianist who played weekly gigs with the Château Laurier orchestra. In his teens, Glatt was the piano player in a band that had a regular spot at the Union Hotel in Thurso. “I was 16. I wasn’t legal,” Glatt recalls. “I was consuming quarts of beer because I thought that made me play better. I was a very mediocre musician.”

Glatt’s college years would have a lasting influence. After a year of “goofing off” at Carleton University, he enrolled in Clarkson College in Potsdam, New York, just a couple of hours from Ottawa but light years ahead in terms of culture. He tuned in to radio stations that played R and B, gospel and jazz, and spent hours at Calipari’s, the landmark Potsdam record store that had all the records organized in categories.

A few of the thousands of bits of memorabilia belonging to Harvey Glatt: some albums he produced.JULIE OLIVER / POSTMEDIA

Glatt also became involved in campus radio and started broadcasting the college’s basketball, baseball and hockey games, despite the fact he wasn’t much of a sports fan. At home in Ottawa one summer, he took the overnight shift at CFRA, playing records and radio dramas from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

In his third year of college, he met Louise Jaffee, a New York City-born pianist in her first year at Potsdam’s Crane College of Music. They bonded over a love of music, and moved in together the following year.

“He opened the car door for me,” she says, explaining why she was drawn to him. “A lot of American kids were very fast. He was good-mannered, modest, quiet. Not ostentatious in anything he did. And no pretence, straight up and straightforward. I’m from New York; that’s not what I was used to.”

They married in 1956, when he was 21 and she 19. To Louise, Ottawa was a cultural wasteland. “We came here when it was a desert,” she says. “We had carte blanche. This was a capital city with what? Nothing. No zoo, no aquarium, none of the things that cities had.”

As Glatt developed a network of contacts in Toronto and Montreal, he worked to remedy that situation. The first concert he presented was Pete Seeger, who drew 400 people to the auditorium at Fisher Park High School and who stayed at the Glatts’ home. Tickets to the concert were $2.50. Glatt and his partners each made $50.

A few of the thousands of bits of memorabilia belonging to Harvey Glatt: signed picture from Sonny and Cher. JULIE OLIVER / POSTMEDIA

The concert-promotion arm of the business, run out of the basement of the music store, became Bass Clef Entertainments Ltd. and presented everything from the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix to contemporary dance and orchestra performances. It was sold in 1985.

Glatt also became a partner in Le Hibou, the legendary Ottawa coffeehouse founded by Denis Faulkner. When it moved to Bank Street, he helped with the booking of English artists, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Oscar Brand, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot and Ian and Sylvia.

Along the way, through the 1960s and ’70s, he managed several Ottawa-based folk artists, notably Bruce Cockburn, David Wiffen, Ian Tamblyn and Colleen Peterson. A big believer in Canadian talent, Glatt also founded TCD, Treble Clef Distribution, initially to distribute imports, but it soon became an avenue to get Canadian artists into stores, too.

A few of the thousands of bits of memorabilia belonging to Harvey Glatt: signed picture from Anne Murray .JULIE OLIVER / POSTMEDIA

Perhaps his most ambitious endeavour was the founding of an FM radio station. Seeing the advent of progressive FM stations in Montreal and Toronto, Glatt applied for an FM licence in Ottawa. “A lot of the good music we were selling at the store wasn’t on radio, except Brian Murphy’s late-night show on CKBY. That was the landscape,” he said.

CHEZ 106 went on the air on March 25, 1977. The first couple of years were difficult. The banks didn’t see music as a worthwhile investment and sent Treble Clef into receivership.

“For a few years, Louise and I didn’t travel much,” Glatt recalls. “Fortunately, as things evolved, CHEZ was doing well. After five or seven years, we were Number One in the market.”

CHEZ FM took over radio stations in Calgary and Smiths Falls, but by 1999 all were sold to Rogers Communications. Glatt became a director on Rogers’ board and served as Rogers’ director of Canadian Music Development until 2005.

A few of the thousands of bits of memorabilia belonging to Harvey Glatt: signed picture from The Rolling Stones. JULIE OLIVER / POSTMEDIA

In recent years, Glatt became a partner in the Toronto-based indie label, True North Records. In a separate and quite spontaneous gesture, he and Louise were so moved by a baroque performance by the National Arts Centre Orchestra that they sponsored a pair of recordings featuring the orchestra under the direction of Pinchas Zukerman.


A Harvey Glatt timeline

1957: Treble Clef Records founded, growing to become a 15-store chain.

1958: Presented Pete Seeger and began concert-promotion career. Other acts presented included: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Gordon Lightfoot, Odetta, Theodore Bikel, The Kingston Trio, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Legendary coffee house-club Le Hibou brought in artists such as Tom Rush, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell and Muddy Waters.

1977: Launched CHEZ 106 FM. CHEZ acquired CKUE and CJET radio stations in 1984. In 1985, acquired 75-per-cent interest in Calgary’s CKIK, sold his interest 10 years later.

1979: Sold Treble Clef chain of record stores.

1985: Sold Bass Clef concert promotion firm.

1999: Sold radio interests to Rogers Media and served with Rogers as a board member (1999-2004) and director of Canadian music development (1999-2005).

2007: Invested, along with Linus Entertainment, in the acquisition of True North Records.

2014: Sponsored, along with wife Louise, the recording of two CDs featuring the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Pinchas Zukerman.

 

Original article written by Lynn Saxberg can be found here.

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