SOCAN is grieving the loss of Phil Nimmons, “The Dean of Canadian Jazz,” who passed away peacefully at home on Apr. 5, 2024, at the age of 100. Nimmons worked as a composer, bandleader, performer, and educator who dedicated himself to music in Canada.

Among the many honours he achieved in his career, Nimmons received a Lifetime Achievement Award from SOCAN; earned the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement; was inducted into the Order of Canada, and the Order of Ontario; was the first-ever recipient of a “Music Excellence in Jazz” JUNO Award; received an Honorary Doctorate from McGill University; and was the first-ever recipient of the Toronto Arts Award for Creative Excellence in Music and Contribution to Canadian Culture.

Nimmons influenced, inspired, encouraged, and mentored generations of musicians, music teachers and audiences, from the 1950s on, through his radio shows, recordings, national Canadian tours, band clinics, workshops, and programs in universities and summer camps, contributing significantly to our nation’s arts and culture.

Nimmons also helped launch major initiatives that, to this day, support Canadian contemporary music. He was a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers, that led to the establishment of the Canadian Music Centre. He helped start many music education programs, including those at the Universities of Toronto, Western Ontario, and New Brunswick, as well as the Banff Centre for Fine Arts. Along with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown, he started the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto.

Nimmons was also a prolific composer and arranger, with more than 400 original jazz compositions and several classical works. He wrote for his own big bands and small groups, as well as for film, radio, TV, and stage productions. He was frequently heard on CBC Radio; in the 1970s, CBC would regularly broadcast Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six performances from high schools after the band had held clinics with the music students.

Born in Kamloops 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.  He was part of a visionary community of musicians who worked to preserve and promote Canadian concert music, including John Weinzweig, John Beckwith, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft, Harry Freedman.

Those who wish to honour his life’s work, and support the continuation of his dedication towards generations of new artists, are asked to contribute to The Phil Nimmons Legacy Fund, established at the Canadian Music Centre. Nimmons is survived by his children Holly, Carey, and Spencer; his grandchildren Sean, Justin, Melinda, Sasha, Phillip, and Colleen; and his great-grandchild Atticus. A celebration of his life and music will be planned in the coming months.

SOCAN extends warm condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and fans.