Montreal jazz guitarist Nelson Symonds dies at 75

Jazz guitarist Nelson Symonds, a fixture in Montreal clubs for more than 40 years, died on Saturday of a heart attack. He was 75.

Jazz guitarist Nelson Symonds, a fixture in Montreal clubs for more than 40 years, died on Saturday of a heart attack. He was 75.

He had suffered from heart disease and underwent a quadruple bypass 12 years ago.

He played with a range of international and local stars, including Art Farmer, John Coltrane, Stanley Turrentine, Ray Charles and Sarah Vaughan.

B.B. King called him "one of the greatest guitar players anywhere."

Almost exclusively a live performer, Symonds was nervous in the recording studio.

For many years, he was the house guitarist at the Black Bottom and La Bohème clubs, and he claimed to have played in every club in Montreal.

His first recording in 1990 was with the Bernard Primeau Jazz Ensemble and his first CD, Getting Personal, was recorded in 1992. Symonds also made a series of recordings with Dave Turner at the Resto Bar des Gouverneurs in 1993.

Born in Hammond's Plains, N.S., on Sept. 24, 1933, he was raised on a farm.

He taught himself to play banjo and later guitar in between chores. He never learned to read music and played by ear all his life.

In 1951, he moved to Sudbury, Ont., to be with an uncle who played saxophone. The two of them played locally and later toured for three years with a carnival band.

During those touring years, Symonds hit Montreal and decided to stay there beginning in 1958.

A 'scene stealer'

He appeared in the 1950s and 1960s at clubs such as Le Vieux Moulin, The Black Bottom, Rockhead's Paradise, L'Air du Temps, Club 2080 and Biddle's.

Symonds gained a reputation for his distinctive guitar style, described as "raw and aggressive" and a "scene stealer."

The Canadian Music Encyclopedia describes him as "one of the most original of Canadian jazzmen."

He played with legendary Montreal band the Stablemates, and led a series of groups of his own.

In 1985, he was a member of the Montreal All-Stars; he also played with the Vic Vogel big band and in Toronto with Dougie Richardson.

Symonds played with the likes of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Blue Mitchell, George Coleman, Jimmy Heath, Booker Ervin, Thad Jones, Pepper Adams, Benny Golson and Brother Jack McDuff.

Record label Justin Time says renowned musicians visiting Montreal, including Miles Davis, used to make a point of checking out Nelson Symonds live.

A 1984 documentary film by Mary Ellen David, Nelson Symonds, Guitarist, records his impact on the local scene.

In 1996 Symonds won the Oscar Peterson prize for his contribution to jazz.