Canadian Composers Profiles: Phil Nimmons is the product of the Canadian Music Centre's Centrediscs label. The CMC supports Canadian composers by loaning works and scores from the organization's library, selling their CDs and providing other services. Only twenty composers have been honored with Portraits. These unique CD sets combine documentaries on the composers' lives with an anthology of their most important works. The Nimmons release is the CDC's first jazz Portrait and their only jazz CD. This honor is well-deserved in view of his many contributions as a jazz musician, educator, arranger and composer. Nimmons has composed many contemporary classical works in addition to over 400 jazz originals.
Phil Nimmons opens the conversation by describing the joy of being 81 and playing free jazz with a young pianist, formerly his student. He closes by calling himself "very lucky." In between, he examines his life with good humor and appreciation: a violin-playing father ,the expected trumpet that became a clarinet, his influences (Goodman, Basie, Ellington), writing as an untrained teenager, The Ray Norris Quintet, the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, Juilliard, 52nd Street, Bach, Toronto and the Royal Conservatory, Noreen and marriage, radio drama scores, Nimmons 'N' Nine, Oscar and Verve, RCA Victor and Mary Poppins, Nimmons 'N' Nine Plus Six and his thoughts on composing. All of this is illustrated by the music by Nimmons and his influences, on the first disc of this remarkable three-disc set.
The remaining two discs were recorded live at the Montreal Bistro in Toronto in 2004. They include over two and a half hours of Nimmons compositions played by the Toronto jazz orchestra, that of Dave McMurdo who describes their intensity as "always there, even when the occasional wheel is falling off." No wheels fell off during these sessions! The compositions range from the 1963 "Carey Dance," a light-hearted jazz waltz, to "The Torch," a composition of many moods written for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Most are from the seventies, updated for the larger 2004 orchestra. Just about everyone solos and the Nimmons music inspires performance. Six soloists alone on the hard-driving "Arf" with trumpeter Chase Sanborn generating a particularly fiery performance. The composer displays his own chops as he swings through "UTS" and "Night Crawler," and takes us for a walk on the wild side with "Herbs" and a stroll through beauty with his "Suite PEI." McMurdo delivers a sympathetic solo on "Blues for Someone" and Jerry Toth is at his ballad best with his alto on "It's Up To You." These sessions were "wish I had been there" occasions.
The attractive package includes the usual information on tunes, players and soloists plus a complete listing of the documentary music, a biography , reflections by a friend, and brief yet incisive comments by Nimmons on each of the compositions.
"The clarinet player worked out fine," McMurdo commented. The clarinet player sure has. For so many years. In so many ways. And still going strong.