In memory of Norm Amadio, a central figure of Canadian jazz history

Canadian pianist Norm Amadio, who led the way in establishing Toronto’s jazz scene and came to be known as one of the most important musicians in Canada, has died. He was 91.

Born in Timmins, Ont., 1928, Amadio first arrived in Toronto in the ’40s as a teen bebop phenom and was instrumental in creating the earliest jazz scene in Toronto.

“Norman Amadio … has been the quintessential musician, ever since he began to play in Toronto nightclubs in 1949,” the trombonist Murray Ginsberg wrote in his book They Loved to Play: Memories of the Golden Age in Canadian Music.

While playing at countless after-hours jazz lounges and holding a prominent place at the House of Hambourg, he became one of the most sought-after players in Toronto, attracting the U.S. jazz stars of the day such as Carmen McRae, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Chet Baker, Mel Tormé, Dinah Washington, Anita O’Day and Max Roach.

In 1956, Amadio became the first and only Canadian to play at the original Birdland jazz club in New York, where he performed opposite Duke Ellington. But he refused the lure of NYC, saying that “coming back to Toronto saved my life.”

Amadio went on to be featured in nearly 100 recordings by Canadian artists, playing with other local legends including Moe Koffman, Don Thompson, Ed Bickert, Jackie Richardson, Rick Wilkins, Reg Schwager, John MacLeod and Lorne Lofsky.

For 50 years, Amadio worked for the CBC as an orchestra leader and musical director for numerous TV series.

In a 2012 article for the Toronto Staraward-winning journalist Peter Goddard referred to Amadio as “unquestionably the finest accompanist in Canadian jazz history,” adding that even as he played well into his eighties, the pianist would still get “the first call from even the newest generation of vocalists.”

After a career that lasted more than 70 years, Amadio retired in 2014 at the age of 86, playing his final gig as part of that year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

In 2016, the Toronto Musicians’ Association honoured Amadio with its Lifetime Achievement Award.