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Canadian Heritage

Phil Nimmons


PHILIP (PHIL) NIMMONS (clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, bandleader, educator) was born on June 3, 1923 in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. He was raised in Vancouver and began playing clarinet in high school. He graduated in pre-Med from UBC in 1944, but soon turned his focus to Music. Through his post- secondary years at the University of British Columbia, he played in local dance bands and joined the jazz quintet of guitarist Ray Norris. He earned a scholarship to study at the Julliard School of Music in New York and later studied composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

One of the country’s most outstanding jazz artists, Phil Nimmons is widely acknowledged as having done more than almost any other musician to bring jazz into the mainstream of Canadian culture. He is unique in this country as a performer, composer, educator, clinician and artistic director of music programs. He is a multimedia composer of over 400 original contemporary classical and jazz compositions written for stage, television, radio, and film, in addition to hundreds of jazz orchestrations.

He is an originating member of the Canadian League of Composers, and founded the Advanced School of Contemporary Music with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown in 1960. In 1964, Nimmons and Peterson composed and recorded one of their most famous pieces of music, The Canadiana Suite, the result of Oscar's desire to create a musical tribute to and portrait of his homeland. Nimmons was the first artistic director of important summer jazz programs across Canada, including that at the Banff School of Fine Arts. From 1969 to 1982, he was Director of Jazz Studies at the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton). In 1997, he influenced the inauguration of the jazz studies program at the University of Toronto where he has taught in the Faculty of Music for over 30 years, and is currently Director Emeritus there.

In 1953, he formed his own jazz band which made its concert debut at the Stratford Festival in 1956 and went on to great success as Nimmons 'N' Nine. His bands ‘Nimmons ‘N’ Nine’ and ‘Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six’ performed for several decades on radio and television and in film as well as touring extensively internationally. Phil Nimmons performs and records with ‘The Phil Nimmons Quartet’ and makes frequent guest appearances as a soloist and in special works all across the country.

In 1994, Canada officially acknowledged Phil’s work and talent by investing him as an Officer of The Order of Canada and a month later, he was named an Officer of The Order of Ontario, honors which acknowledged “his significant contribution to the cultural life of Canada; largely responsible for bringing jazz into the mainstream of music through radio performances, concerts, workshops, and class rooms; a superior composer, educator, and clarinetist who has contributed to the success of established musicians and influenced the careers of generations of younger musicians…a tireless advocate of jazz as a significant art form”.

Phil Nimmons released the recording Friendly Encounters with fellow clarinetist James Campell in 2009. The recording features jazz and classical musicians collaborating on eight Nimmons compositions. The final track has Nimmons performing an improvised duo piece with pianist David Braid.

In addition to other projects, Nimmons is currently performing with pianist David Braid in the duo (clarinet & piano) 'Nimmons 'n' Braid'. Their live recording, Beginnings, was recorded in 2004.


1967 - Accorded the Government of Canada Award
1967 - CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) Certificate of Appreciation
1968 - Honored by BMI (Canada)
1975 - Awarded Certificate of Appreciation for Cultural Contribution by the City of Fredericton. New Brunswick
1977 - JUNO Award for Best Jazz Album to Nimmons 'n' Nine Plus Six for The Atlantic Suite (the first-ever JUNO awarded for Jazz)
1980 - Outstanding Success Award from the Performance Rights Organization (PRO Canada)
1986 - first-ever recipient of a Toronto Arts Award for Creative Excellence in Music and Contribution to Canadian to Canadian Culture
1994 - Named an Officer of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour given in this country, granted to Canadian citizens 'for outstanding achievement and service to the country or to humanity at large'
1994 – Named an Officer of the Order of Ontario
2001 - Inducted into the Jazz Educators’ Hall of Fame (IAJE - International Association for Jazz Education)
2002 - Winner of the Governor-General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement
2003 - Recipient of the University of Toronto Distinguished Service Award in Music Education
2005 - National Jazz Awards winner as 'Clarinetist of the Year'
2006 - Winner of the JAZZ.FM91 'Artist of Distinction' Award’. in association with the National Jazz Awards. to "honor a Canadian artist who has made an important and enduring contribution to the promotion and development of excellence in the world of jazz, with a particular emphasis on Canada"
2006 – Awarded the first Phil Nimmons SOCAN/IAJE Established Composer Award
2006 - National Jazz Awards winner as 'Clarinetist of the Year'1995 to 2008 - Consistent annual Winner of The Jazz Report and/or National Jazz Awards as ‘Jazz Clarinetist of the Year’