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Canadian Heritage

Sonny Greenwich


HERBERT 'SONNY' GREENWICH (guitarist, composer) was born on January 1, 1936 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The family moved to Toronto in the early ‘40s, and Sonny began playing guitar when he was in his late teens, joining pianist Connie Maynard’s Band when he was 22. Greenwich always attributed his unique guitar style to influence by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, saying he tried to emulate Rollins’ saxophone sounds on the guitar.

By the ‘60s, Greenwich was playing jazz exclusively, appearing in all of the main Toronto jazz clubs of the time, frequently with his own bands, but also with saxophonist Don ‘D.T.’ Thompson and other well-known jazz players. Greenwich made his home primarily in Toronto until the late '60s, with stints in between playing in New York with everyone from Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, and Wayne Shorter to Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Sun-Ra, Lee Morgan, and Hank Mobley, as well as touring in the U.S. for six months (including a Carnegie Hall appearance)with saxophonist John Handy, bassist Don Thompson, and drummer Terry Clarke. He played with several of the same artists when they visited Toronto in late ’69 and 1970: Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Tony Williams at the Colonial Tavern, and again with Miles Davis at Massey Hall.

Greenwich has lived in the Montreal area since l974, performing occasionally in clubs, concerts, and festivals there, but also in Toronto, Quebec City, Ottawa, and New York.

He recorded his first album for the CBC in the early 1970s, and has since recorded often in live club performance and recording studios with his own ensembles and with jazz luminaries including Don Thompson and Claude Ranger, Greenwich formed his own record label, Kleo, in the early ‘90s, releasing three recordings, before continuing his recording career with Justin Time playing with artists including his son, Sonny Greenwich Jr., Kenny Wheeler, Jane Bunnett, Alain Caron, and Paul Bley. In year 2000, Sackville Records re-released a set of 1979 duets with guitarist Ed Bickert, and in 2001, Cornerstone Records put out ‘Fragments of a Memory’.

Sonny Greenwich continues to compose and perform in Montreal, and record as both a leader and guest artist, as well as appear at jazz festivals all over Canada. He was featured in concert during the “Sound of Toronto Jazz” Series at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto on February 23, 1981.


1979 - listed as one of the '10 Best Canadian Jazz Musicians of All Time' in the Canadian Book of Lists

1989 - Nominated at the ADISQ Awards in Montreal in the ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ Category for 'Live at Sweet Basil'

1990 – JUNO Nominee for ‘Hymn to the Earth’ CD

1993 – JUNO Nominee for ‘Standard Idioms’ as ‘Best Mainstream Jazz Album’

1993 – Felix Award Nominee for ‘Standard Idioms’ as ‘Best Mainstream Jazz Album’

1997 – JUNO Nominee for 'Spirit in the Air'

Recipient of several ‘Jazz Report Awards’ as ‘Best Jazz Guitarist’ throughout the 1990s

2004 – Winner in the ‘Outstanding Jazz Recording’ Category at the Western Canadian Music Awards (Calgary. Alberta) for the Sonny Greenwich/Marilyn Lerner CD ‘Special Angel’ (CBC Records)

2008 – Named a member of the Order of Canada for his exceptional contribution to Canada and Canadians in the area of Performing Arts/Music.


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