Jazz legend Don Palmer, who mentored generations of Nova Scotia musicians, dies at 82

Don Palmer, a Canadian jazz legend who inspired and mentored generations of musicians in Nova Scotia, has passed away. He was 82 years old.

Palmer, who was born in Sydney, died in a Toronto hospital on Friday after a brief illness.

Saxophonist and flautist by trade, Palmer was known for his jazz trio Alive with Jerry Granelli and Skip Beckwith and his work with Latin jazz musician Tito Puente, among countless other artists, groups and orchestras over the years.

Although he has enjoyed success in the industry, Palmer’s daughter, Leanna Palmer, said he was best known for being a generous and kind teacher.

Don Palmer, left, and Jerry Granelli, right, were part of the jazz trio Alive and Well with Skip Beckwith. Granelli passed away earlier this year. (Submitted by Jeff Reilly)

“He lived every day of his life with love, with everything. It was the love of music. It was the love of his students. It was the love of life,” Leanna has said since. his home in Toronto.

“… When you hear people talk about his impact – of course his music is important – but he had such an impact on his students as people, because he just wanted to share that love of music, but he also just wanted to cultivate this love in others. “

As a young man, Palmer played the clarinet in the Royal Canadian Artillery Band in Halifax, attended the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts, and often played the alto saxophone at a jazz club on Barrington Street.

His love of jazz brought him to New York in 1956, when legends like John Coltrane and Miles Davis were playing, and during his time there he studied with several renowned musicians, including Lennie Tristano and Lee konitz.

“He kind of absorbed it all and it came out in his game,” said Jeff Reilly, CBC music producer and longtime friend of Palmer’s. “He was totally committed to music.”

Reilly said Palmer’s style was influenced by his teachers’ fast, light and energetic playing, but he made it his own – more distinct and rhythmically aggressive.

Palmer studied in New York. (Submitted by Leanna Palmer)

He added that Palmer had an impressive ability to lead a loosely paced quartet and turn music into something cohesive “just by the force of his own rhythmic integrity.”

Contribute to Agitation

Both Reilly and Leanna have said that one of the most popular pieces Palmer has contributed to was Van McKoy’s. 1970s disco hit The restlessness.

Palmer was a multi-instrumentalist working as a freelance studio musician at the time, and during a recording session he was asked to play a line on his flute.

Little did he know that a line would become the song’s signature flute beat.

“He was embarrassed about it at first. It was just a gig, right? He didn’t know what it was like when he walked in.

Palmer spent more than two decades in New York City before returning to Sydney. (Submitted by Leanna Palmer)

“He played that very simple, very small little tune over and over again, got his paycheck and went home and then found out it was a pretty famous song,” Leanna said with a laugh.

Leanna said her father had even been a member of Broadway bands for musicals, including Fat, during his stay in New York.

“Don to really listen”

After spending two decades in New York City, Palmer returned to Sydney to serve as Artist in Residence at the College of Cape Breton, bringing a wealth of musical knowledge he was destined to share.

Soon after, in the late 1970s, he co-founded the Atlantic Jazz Festival – now the Halifax Jazz Festival – and later became its artistic director.

He also became Director of Jazz Studies at Dalhousie University, where he taught generations of students, growing the jazz scene in Halifax.

Paul White, a music producer in Toronto and friend of Palmer’s, said he first met Palmer while playing at a jazz festival in Dartmouth as a teenager.

Palmer was a guest referee and rated the tapes.

“I distinctly remember him judging that day and said, ‘I’m going to study with him. I mean, I more or less went to Dalhousie, just to be with him, ”White said.

“He was my mentor and I am fortunate that he has become such a good friend to me.”

Reilly said he had a similar experience with Palmer, even as a fellow musician.

“Don had such a wealth of experience in the late ’80s that he was really as much of a mentor as a colleague, but he never treated me that way,” Reilly said.

“[He taught] just by example and telling me endless stories about his experiences in New York and somehow imbibing an understanding of the heritage of jazz. “

Palmer became the director of the jazz program at Dalhousie University in the late 1970s. It was there that he became a mentor to many musicians in Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Leanna Palmer)

Reilly said Palmer instilled this legacy in every student he taught, including Juno Prize winners. saxophonist, Kirk MacDonald, the current director of the jazz program at Dalhousie, Chris Mitchell, and Mike Murley, who is considered one of Canada’s most famous jazz artists.

“He genuinely cared about other people and their musical development and listened intently to you as a player… he would give this gift of really listening to what you were doing and [was] able to recognize your strengths and somehow give you an idea of ​​how to overcome your weaknesses without making you feel diminished.

“He’s a real gift. He was a great teacher and that legacy lives on with so many players,” said Reilly.

White said this legacy, and Palmer himself, will never be forgotten.

Palmer’s daughter, Leanna Palmer, said her father’s legacy lives on in the love he shared with his family and the many students he has worked with over the years. (Submitted by Leanna Palmer)

Leanna said that her father will be sadly missed.

“Her heritage is more than her music,” she said.

“Yes his music is so important and it is important to him and it is important to many, but I think the person we miss right now is the man, not the music.”


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