British Columbia

Tribute album to Phil Nimmons a salute to the foundation of Canada's jazz scene

A new tribute to Phil Nimmons, often referred to as the “dean of Canadian jazz," features arrangements from his grandson Sean Nimmons and illustrates the impact the 97-year-old has had on the genre in Canada.

The 97-year-old jazz legend is often referred to as the 'dean of Canadian jazz'

Kamloops-born Phil Nimmons, one of the founding fathers of Canadian jazz, with his grandson, musician Sean Nimmons. (Nimmons Tribute/Facebook)

How do you pay tribute to a 97-year-old jazz icon who's worn the hats of clarinetist, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator?

Phil Nimmons' grandson came up with the idea of gathering a bunch of musicians who have known and worked with the Canadian jazz legend and recording an album. 

It's a testament to Nimmons' impact that those musicians are some of the best in the field. 

"It may have had something to do with the fact that it's the time of COVID and people are a little more available than usual. But we got all of, you know, the first choices as far as the people we wanted to play on the album," said Sean Nimmons, who arranged the tracks on the album, To the Nth.

Joining Sean Nimmons on piano are Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, flugelhorn, Tara Davidson on alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, Mike Murley on tenor saxophone, William Carn on trombone, Perry White on baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, Jon Mahara on bass, and Ethan Ardelli on drums.

Members of The Nimmons Tribute, from left to right: Perry White, Mike Murley, Tara Davidson, William Carn, Ethan Ardelli, Sean Nimmons, Jon Maharaj, and Kevin Turcotte. (Nimmons Tribute/Facebook)

"The lineage of the music in Canadian jazz is really fascinating to me to see how this tradition has been passed down," said Sean Nimmons. "And Phil really is at the top or at the beginning of it all. I mean, he laid the foundation, you know, with others."

Phil Nimmons, who was awarded the inaugural Juno Award for best jazz album in 1977 and later, the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, said he stayed away from getting too involved in the album.

"I stayed, like, completely out of it," he said. "I said ... It's your baby, Sean. You do whatever you want."

The end result, he says, knocked him out.

"They had done a fantastic job. And he's done his own interpretation of those songs. And of course, the playing is just fantastic."

For Sean Nimmons, attending his grandfather's concerts and listening to his records is what inspired him to get into the music industry. But through the process of making this album, he says, he's found his own voice. 

"You know, Phil's showing us the way in so many ways ... He's encouraged everybody to pursue their own muse," said Sean Nimmons. 

"We all have our own creative world and that through the exploration of our own creative worlds and sharing them with one another, we really think we get the magic out of life."

To listen to the interview with Phil and Sean Nimmons on CBC's Hot Air, click on the link below: 

Music runs deep in the Nimmons family. Phil is a revered elder statesman in Canadian jazz, and grandson Sean is a respected film composer and arranger who has just released a tribute to his grandfather called "To The Nth." This hour features an interview with both men and a sampling of music from the just-released album. 54:00

With files from Hot Air

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