Vancouver jazz guitarist Oliver Gannon appointed to Order of Canada

Guitarist Oliver Gannon has been decorated with some of the jazz industry’s top prizes. But his latest honour, announced in an early morning phone call in December, left Gannon stunned.

'I don't know ... why they chose me. But I'm very glad and I'm not giving it back,'

Gannon is being recognized for his achievements as a musician and for his contribution to Vancouver's jazz scene. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Guitarist Oliver Gannon has been decorated with some of the jazz industry's top prizes, including a Juno Award and a National Jazz Award.

But his latest honour, announced in an early morning phone call in December, left Gannon stunned.

Gannon, 74, was told that he had been appointed to the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour.

"I don't know ... why they chose me," he said. "But I'm very glad and I'm not giving it back."

The Governor General of Canada, in fact, lists a precise reason for the honour: "For [Gannon's] achievements as a musician and for his contribution to Vancouver's jazz scene."

His kids, Gannon said, were more impressed that he was in the same cohort as William Shatner, who played the iconic Captain Kirk on Star Trek.

Gannon proudly wore his Order of Canada pin during a sit-down interview with Hot Air host Margaret Gallagher, where he traced back his half-century career in Canada's music scene.

Jazz inspiration

Gannon was 14 when he and his family emigrated from Ireland to Winnipeg.

At the age of 19, he was studying engineering when he heard a record by American jazz guitarist Barney Kessel. Gannon had just bought his first electric guitar.

"It was the first jazz record I ever heard and the rest is history," he said.

"I couldn't believe how good it was. I had no idea that a guitar could sound like that."

Touring the Soviet Union

Gannon toured the Soviet Union with his band, Fraser and Friends, an unprecedented three times in the 70s, when travelling to the country was extremely strict.

He made it through thanks to a cultural exchange treaty between Canada and the Soviet Union.

"The jazz fans were fantastic over there," he said. "In all three of my trips, the Russians loved Jazz."

Gannon says aspiring jazz performers should listen to as much live jazz as they can.

"If you can't get out and hear the live jazz, then listen to a record," he said. "That's really how all of us learn — by listening and also observing."

What's next?

Gannon will turn 75 on March 23 — and he still has plenty of performances left.

He's performing with the 10-piece Wow Band every second Tuesday at the Point Grey Legion 142 on Broadway and Alma.

He's also playing a special concert Friday, March 16 at Frankie's with Bill Coon and guest Campbell Ryga.

It's presented by Juno Jazz BC because, of course, Juno week is just around the corner.

On today's show, jazz guitar great Oliver Gannon, who's been a big part of the Canadian music scene for more than a half century. During that time, he's won a National Jazz Award winner for Guitarist of the year, and toured the world, including three trips to the Soviet Union. Most recently, Gannon was appointed to the Order of Canada. 54:00

With files from CBC's Hot Air