Phil Nimmons

2002 Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Popular Music)

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.

Born in Kamloops, BC, in 1923, he graduated in pre-medicine from the University of British Columbia before taking up music studies at the Juilliard School of Music (New York) and later at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

A founding member of the Canadian League of Composers (1950), he co-founded the Advanced School of Contemporary Music (1960) with Oscar Peterson and the late Ray Brown. Mr. Nimmons was a major influence on the establishment of the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Toronto (1997), where he has taught music for 30 years.

His music is familiar to thousands of Canadians (and internationally), thanks largely to his performances on his own CBC Radio show beginning in 1953 and as clarinetist and bandleader with his jazz group, Nimmons N' Nine, which he later expanded to Nimmons N' Nine Plus Six. Mr. Nimmons received the first Juno Award ever given in the jazz category for his group's recording of The Atlantic Suite.

In addition to over 400 original jazz compositions and countless arrangements, Mr. Nimmons has written numerous contemporary chamber and orchestral works for voice, piano, strings and other ensembles. His work includes commissions for Expo '67, UNESCO World Music Week (1975), the 1976 World Olympics, and the 1988 Winter Olympics; he has composed scores for stage, film, radio and television and has made a dozen recordings, most recently Sands of Time (2001).

At a point in his career where others might be enjoying retirement, Phil Nimmons continues to work with energy and commitment as a composer, performer and educator. “I'm not fussy about retiring,” he says; “it's a word I have trouble spelling, let alone accepting!” He is currently Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the University of Toronto and, among other recent engagements, performed at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival and the Stratford Festival's fiftieth anniversary celebrations (2002).

Awards and honours include: Officer of the Order of Canada, 1993; inducted into the International Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame, 2001 (first Canadian who has spent his entire career in Canada to be inducted); Order of Ontario, 1993; Toronto Arts Award for Creative Excellence in Music and Contribution to Canadian Culture, 1986 (first recipient); Juno Award for Music Excellence in Jazz, 1976 (first recipient, for The Atlantic Suite); Canada's Centennial Medal, 1967.