Music

Phil Nimmons, 'dean of Canadian jazz,' dead at 100

During his long life, Nimmons influenced generations of musicians, music teachers and audiences.

During his long life, Nimmons influenced generations of musicians, music teachers and audiences

Phil Nimmons is pictured onstage with his clarinet, surrounded by jazz musicians.
Phil Nimmons, who won the inaugural Juno Award for musical excellence in jazz in 1977, has died at 100. (Mark Miller)

Jazz clarinettist, composer and bandleader Phil Nimmons, known as the "dean of Canadian jazz," has died at the age of 100.

A statement released by his family confirmed that Nimmons died at home in Toronto on April 5. "As Phil would say, he has 'gone to the land of 2 'n' 4,'" it said.

During his long life, Nimmons influenced generations of musicians, music teachers and audiences through his recordings, concerts, band clinics, workshops, programs in universities and summer camps, and tours across the country.

Nimmons was frequently heard on CBC Radio, leading his band on the program Nimmons 'N' Nine in the 1970s.

LISTEN | Saturday Night Jazz celebrates Phil Nimmons's 100th birthday:
SNJ celebrates the living legend - Canadian jazz clarinetist, composer, bandleader, and educator Phil Nimmons on his 100th birthday! 4 hours of Nothing but Nimmons as Laila Biali guides you through his recordings, compositions, arrangements, his collaborations + a glimpse of his Classical side!

Nimmons was also a prolific composer and arranger, with more than 400 original jazz compositions and several classical works to his credit. He wrote music for his own ensembles, as well as for film, radio and TV.

He was a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers and helped start several music education programs, including those at the University of Toronto, Western University, the University of New Brunswick and the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts.

In the 1960s, along with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown, Nimmons started the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto.

Nimmons Tribute

In recent years, Nimmons's legacy has been celebrated through the Nimmons Tribute, a jazz band led by Sean Nimmons-Paterson (Phil's grandson), bringing together Phil's colleagues, former students and friends. The Nimmons Tribute has released two albums: To the Nth (2020) and Generational (2023).

Born in Kamloops, B.C., and raised in Vancouver, Nimmons studied at the University of British Columbia before heading to the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and then to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where he met his wife, Noreen Liëse Spencer Nimmons.

They became part of a community of musicians who worked to preserve and promote Canadian music, including John Weinzweig, John Beckwith, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft and Harry Freedman.

Nimmons received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement in 2002 — just one of many distinctions. He received the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario in 1994; a Downbeat Achievement Award for jazz education in 2006, and the Jazz Report and National Jazz Award for clarinettist of the year for 13 consecutive years, from 1995 to 2008.

Nimmons also won the inaugural Juno Award for musical excellence in jazz for The Atlantic Suite in 1977.

A legacy fund has been established at the Canadian Music Centre in Nimmons's honour.

Nimmons is survived by three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.