The big news in Canadian jazz circles in 2019 was that musician and educator Phil Nimmons had retiredat age ninety-six. His decision marked the end of several eras that began more than seventy years ago and included forty-six years as a music teacher at the University of Toronto, ten acclaimed recordings as leader of his own groups, numerous honors as an educator and musician, a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), and the Governor General's Performing Arts Award, the country's highest honor in artistic, academic and social fields. As a composer, Nimmons has authored more than four hundred original jazz works and earned a coveted JUNO Award (the first ever given in the jazz category) in 1977 for his album The Atlantic Suite.
Almost from the moment Nimmons decided to step down, plans were under way for a tribute album, an undertaking spearheaded by, among others, his grandson, Sean Nimmons, who as a professional jazz pianist is safeguarding the family's legacy. Sean Nimmons not only mans the keyboards on To the Nth, he also rearranged seven of his grandfather's splendid compositions (and added one of his own, "Rista's Vista") for an all-star octet whose heavyweight members include trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, tenor saxophonist Mike Murley and baritone saxophonist Perry White . Others in the ring and ready to rumble are saxophonist/clarinetist Tara Davidson, trombonist William Carn, bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Ethan Ardelli.
What springs to the fore immediately is the brightness and buoyancy that underscore every theme by Phil Nimmons whose musical philosophy is emblazoned on the genial opener, "Nufsicisum" (read it backward). With so much superlative music from which to choose, selections had to be carefully made, and Sean Nimmons managed that assignment well. "Night Crawler," another breezy charmer, leads to the picturesque "Harbours," the lone song chosen from The Atlantic Suite. "Swing Softly" does exactly that (with an occasional nod to the great Gerry Mulligan), setting a well-ordered stage for the lovely ballad "Holly" (enriched by Davidson's soprano sax and White's bass clarinet) and gently shifting "Sands of Time." Sean Nimmons' loping "Rista's Vista," on which his piano is featured, refers to his grandfather's middle name, the ethereal "Liese" to the teacher who introduced the younger Nimmons to music and the pianooddly enough, not his grandfather but grandmother, Noreen Liese Spencer Nimmons, a renowned classical pianist and educator. An unlisted string section enhances its charm. The last two tracks, it should be noted, include no brass or winds.
The music is smooth and seductive, soloists sharp and creative. A warm and engaging tribute to one of Canada's national treasures who, happily, is able to hear and appreciate it. And according to the album cover (which says Volume 1), there is even more to come. What could possibly top To the Nth? Stay tuned...
Nufsicisum; Night Crawler; Harbours (from the Atlantic Suite); Swing Softly; Holly; Sands
of Time; Rista’s Vista; Liese.
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