PHIL NIMMONS, b. 1923
Atlantic Suite/Suite P.E.I./Tributes
Recorded in Toronto, August 1973 and June 1975
More than anything else in clarinet virtuoso Phil Nimmons’s lengthy list of impressive accomplishments, this 1996 Sackville re-release of his 1975 recording of his (and the jazz world’s) beloved Atlantic Suite attests to his enduring love of both his country and jazz music. In this double-CD collection, Atlantic Suite is paired with an earlier recording of Suite P.E.I., in a fond tribute to the beauty of Canada’s eastern provinces.
In 1945, Nimmons left home in Vancouver to study at Juilliard and later at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, where his teachers and peers dubbed him “the jazzer” because, even then, he was a staunch champion of the music he loved more than any other. “I’ve always been the jazzer,” he told writer Mark Miller for his book Boogie, Pete & the Senator. “I’m still going through the process of trying to convince my friends that this is music, too.”
His friends weren’t the only people he never wearied of trying to persuade that jazz was a significant genre of music. In 1951, he became a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers, along with the composers of some of the country’s best-known contemporary music. Miller reports that Nimmons alone took the CLC’s activist stance into the realm of jazz. And he didn’t stop there. He proudly used his position at the CBC, where he wrote and performed for more than twenty years, to lobby management at every opportunity on behalf of the jazz industry. To this day he continues to devote himself to jazz education and still works for the greater recognition of and performance opportunities for Canadian jazz musicians.
Phil Nimmons is widely acknowledged as “the elder statesman of jazz” in Canada. A performer, arranger, educator, clinician, and artistic director of music programs, he is also the composer of more than four hundred original contemporary classical and jazz compositions for stage, television, radio, and film, in addition to hundreds of jazz orchestrations. His bands, Nimmons ‘N’ Nine and the later Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six, performed for decades on radio and television and concert stages across the country. He has been accorded nearly every relevant Canadian honour and never appears anywhere without his Officer of the Order of Canada pin prominently displayed on his lapel.
But for good fortune – and some nimble footwork on Nimmons’s part – the 1970s tour of the Atlantic provinces that inspired his crowning Atlantic Suite might never have happened. Almost all of the regular band members of Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six were tied up with studio gigs, so he was forced to put together a fresh ensemble – an exciting blend of young talent and experienced solo voices, such as trumpeter Herbie Spanier and tenor-sax player Art Ellefson. They’re all at their Nimmons-led best on this recording of Atlantic Suite, which won the Juno for best jazz record in 1976, the first year the Junos included jazz as an award category.
In his liner notes, Farley Mowat says, “I was so delighted by the images Nimmons conjures up in the Atlantic Suite that I couldn’t resist the impulse to tell others what I had seen, smelled, felt, and heard in them.” Nimmons has divided his Atlantic Suite tour de force into four distinct movements. The first movement is entitled “Harbours,” which Mowat says represents “the beginning and the end of man’s encroachment on the sea. . . . In this movement one of the greatest of the world’s harbours, Halifax and Bedford Basin, comes alive in all of its intricate melding of ageless mysteries and modern mechanical miracles, old voices and new.”
The second movement is “Islands,” written “under the spell of Prince Edward Island . . . a strange marriage between land and water,” followed by “Tides,” a story “of power beyond our understanding,” and finally, “Horizons,” which “returns us to the people of the sea, the Newfoundlanders.”
Nimmons’s love affair with Prince Edward Island began some years earlier, a cherished relationship he turned into the seventeen-minute “Suite P.E.I.,” recorded by Nimmons ‘N’ Nine at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition in 1973. Tributes, big band songs he recorded in 1979, comprises the second disc in the set and features virtuoso performances by a band made up of legends, including Nimmons in top form on the clarinet, Guido Basso, Rob McConnell, Moe Koffman, Ed Bickert, Don Thompson, and others.
Sackville Recordings #5003