In a brilliant career spanning six decades, jazz musician, composer and educator Phil Nimmons, O.C., O. Ont., B.A. has made an indelible contribution to the cultural life of Canada.
He is largely responsible for bringing jazz into the mainstream of music in Canada through radio performances, concerts and workshops with Nimmons ‘N’ Nine and other groups. Best known in the early part of his career as a jazz clarinetist, bandleader, composer and arranger, he has also been a tireless advocate of jazz as a significant North American art form. He has been a key figure in Canadian music education, always willing to help and encourage other musicians, particularly those just beginning their studies and careers. Phil Nimmons joined the TMA in June 1949 and has been a Life Member of the Association for several decades.
Born in Kamloops, B.C. in 1923 he graduated (1944) in pre-medicine from the University of British Columbia before taking up music studies (clarinet) at the Juilliard School, New York (1945-47) and at the Royal Conservatory of Music (composition), Toronto (1948-50). He formed the jazz ensemble Nimmons ‘N’ Nine in Toronto in 1953.
Enlarged to 16 musicians (Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six) in 1965, and active until 1980, the band enjoyed considerable popularity through regular CBC broadcasts and concert tours. Among its nine albums, made between 1956 and 1976, were recordings of the major Nimmons compositions The Atlantic Suite (1974) that received the first Juno Award ever given in the jazz category, and Transformations/Invocation (1976). Nimmons continued after 1980 to perform in small-band settings, recording the 2-CD Sands of Time with a quartet (2001).
A founding member of the Canadian League of Composers (1950), he co-founded the Advanced School of Contemporary Music (1960) with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. Nimmons’ involvement in music education dates to 1960; he began teaching at the University of Toronto in 1973, and has helped to establish jazz programs elsewhere in Canada. He is now Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the U. of T. In addition to over 400 original jazz compositions and countless arrangements, Phil Nimmons has written numerous contemporary chamber and orchestral works for voice, piano, strings and other ensembles. His work includes commissions for Expo 67 (Montreal), UNESCO World Music Week (1975), the 1976 World Olympics, Expo 86 (Vancouver) (Skyscape: Sleeping Beauty and the Lions for concert band), and the 1988 Winter Olympics (The Torch for big band); he has composed scores for stage, film, radio and television, and contemporary concert presentation (Moods and Contrasts for the Esprit Orchestra, 1994).
In 2002, Phil Nimmons received the Governor General’s Award, the highest civilian award, for his contributions to Canadian music. The Toronto Musicians’ Association is proud to honour our distinguished Life Member Phil Nimmons with the TMA Lifetime Achievement Award.