The young and fearless play ‘true jazz’

The pianist just turned 33 and the clarinetist will be 84 next week. And yet it is the older gentleman who has been described as “fearless”.

“The amazing thing about Phil,” says jazz pianist David Braid, “is he is in the autumn of his career and he is putting everything on the line.”

Phil Nimmons, the “dean of Canadian jazz”, hears of Braid’s assessment during a separate telephone interview and he has to agree: “I will do whatever the heck I want to do because my time is limited.”

But then he offers a twist: “He (Braid) keeps me young.

“One of the blessings of teaching is students who come back and touch your life somehow.

“Teaching is a two-way street.”

Besides winning many honours and a Juno Award for his music, Nimmons has also been recognized many times for his contribution through teaching.

Braid, a Juno winner himself, was one of his students and, now, he makes up half of Nimmons ‘n’ Braid. He is also a member of several groups that lean heavily on his compositions.

Yet, with his “fearless” partner, they play true jazz … “true” in the sense that the music has never been heard before and it will never be heard again.

“The music is completely spontaneous,” says Braid from Brockville, Ontario, just hours after returning from Beijing. “With Phil, the entire concert is spontaneous, so that is different and exciting.

“We throw out the pen and paper and compose spontaneously, on stage, in the true spirit of jazz.”

This must be difficult, this give and take of “musical ideas” on the fly, when there is a 50-year difference in their ages.

But Nimmons does not agree.

“Nothing has reached that ambiance that I have reached with him,” he says. “I can’t describe it, we just sit down and play.”

Nimmons says the cozy arrangement created by Jazz Yukon’s decision to place the audience on stage with performers offers them a chance to connect even deeper. Especially since they do not use amplification.

Will the audience effect the music?

“I don’t know,” he says. “I haven’t met them yet.”

It should be explained here that Nimmons loves to joke around.

“Phil is hilarious,” says Braid. “He is a riot. He is the epitome of charming and he can make people relax.

“In fact, we were considering releasing a CD of just music and one of just banter.”

That first CD will, indeed, happen. Braid says all of their performances are recorded and Whitehorse’s will be one of them if there are no technical glitches.

The performance, a part of the Jazz On The Wing Series, will be May 25 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Arts Underground and the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office.

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