Norm Amadio fittingly just turned 88 this April, and will soon celebrate his 62nd wedding anniversary with his wife, Lorraine. Norm retired after the 2014 Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, ending a career that spanned over 70 years.
Born in Timmins, Ontario, Norm made his professional debut at age 13, playing piano in a country music band. He had ideas of becoming an architect, but instead, influenced by the likes of Lennie Tristano, Art Tatum, and Bud Powell, left for Toronto at 17 to study with Boris Berlin at the Royal Conservatory.
He quickly emerged on the after-hours jazz scene at the House of Hambourg, worked with Chicho Valle and Jimmy Amaro, and later became a fixture at the Colonial Tavern, Silver Rail, Bourbon Street, First Floor Club, and George’s Spaghetti House. And, of course, the Town Tavern, where he led the house band during the fifties and sixties, backing many American jazz superstars: Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Chet Baker, Carol Sloane, Mel Tormé, Anita O’Day, Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry, Howard McGhee, Max Roach, Carmen McRae, Joe Williams, Dinah Washington, Irene Kral, and Bud Freeman.
One snowy night in 1956, when the rest of the band got delayed at the border, Miles Davis and drummer Philly Joe Jones played the Town with Norm, Ed Bickert, and Lenny Boyd. That year, he became the first and only Canadian to play at the original Birdland in New York City, opposite Duke Ellington. But he wasn’t happy there, saying that he preferred the “straight life” and that “coming back to Toronto saved my life.” He would, later in his career, perform in Switzerland, Eastern Europe and Japan.
The Norman Amadio Trio evolved from the 50s & 60s with Bill Britto and Archie Alleyne, through the 70s, 80s & 90s with Bob Price and Alex Lazaroff, and into the new millennium with Rosemary Galloway and Don Vickery.
Peter Goddard writes: “Reliability got him work. Unrivaled musicality gave him stature and clout. Jazz stars arriving in town wanted him. Or even needed him, as the veteran American singer Maxine Sullivan once told me.”
The Canadian and Toronto-based musicians Norm has worked with are too numerous to list, but include Tommy Ambrose, Don “D.T.” Thompson, Ed Bickert, Jack Lander, Moe Koffman, Guido Basso, Phyllis Marshall, Terry Clarke, Sam Noto, Debi Sander Walker, Jackie Richardson, Rick Wilkins, Neil Swainson, Reg Schwager, John MacLeod, Lorne Lofsky, Jerry Fuller, John McDermott, and Steve Wallace.
Norm was pianist and/or musical director for such CBC Television shows as Music Hop, Wayne & Shuster, Juliette, Hit Parade, Take 30 and Swing Gently, as well as TV specials with Robert Goulet, Al Hirt, Steve Lawrence, Kenny Rogers, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, and the two-hour live CBC Special 100 Years of Canada, featuring the 40-piece Norman Amadio Orchestra.
Norm also had the house orchestra at the Royal York’s Imperial Room in the late 80s, backing stars like Peggy Lee, Eddie Fisher, Bobby Darin, Donald O’Connor, The Drifters, The Coasters, The Mamas and The Papas, Bobby Rydell, Tommy Tune and Phyllis Diller. At the O’Keefe Centre, Norm worked with Judy Garland, Paul Anka, Engelbert Humperdinck, Red Skelton, The Supremes, and Bob Hope.
Alex Barris writes that “musicians and singers… were quickly aware that ego played no part in his work” and “through the many years of playing for some of the most famous musical artists around, he [has] remained a modest, soft-spoken, totally professional musician.”
Norm says of his career: “I never thought I’d get to play with all these people, but… I had a ball!”
The Toronto Musicians’ Association is delighted to recognize Norm Amadio with our Lifetime Achievement Award.