Canadian Jazz Greats Entertain Small Community

The phrases “jazz greats” and “rural area” aren’t usually uttered in the same breath, but that changed on April 20, when Canadian music legends Don Thompson and Phil Dwyer performed on Denman Island.

To celebrate 30 years of friendship and musical collaboration, Thompson and Dwyer are doing a series of shows along the British Columbia coast this spring. The duo are also touring to support their latest CD, Look for the Silver Lining.

The musicians met in 1982 at the Banff Centre Summer Jazz Workshop when Thompson was one of Dwyer’s instructors. Dwyer has gone on to perform on over 100 recordings which have won him several JUNO and National Jazz Awards, among other accolades.

Dwyer has appeared on stage with hundreds of other musicians. That list includes Kenny Wheeler, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall and The Temptations. He’s also played with several university ensembles, the Toronto and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras, and Latvia’s Liepaja Symphony.

The saxophonist, arranger, pianist, composer and educator started the Phil Dwyer Academy of Musical and Culinary Arts in 2005 and SeaWind Musical Instruments with childhood friend Claudio Fantinato, a leading musical instrument technician.

Thompson, a pianist, bassist and vibraphonist, also arranges, produces and composes music, as well as being a dedicated jazz educator. He teaches yearly at Banff, and has also worked at York University and taught in the degree program of Humber College of Music in Toronto.

He began his professional career in 1960 and he joined the John Handy Quintet five years later. Thompson has played in several groups, including the house rhythm section of the Bourbon Street jazz club in Toronto, and Rob McConnell and The Boss Brass. He’s also led groups like the Banff Alumni Jazz Ensemble and his Don Thompson Trio.

Thompson has won dozens of JUNO, National Jazz and The Jazz Report awards. He received the Art of Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2009.

Dwyer says they chose to hold their concert at Denman Island Hall because they wanted “to bring high quality music to a rural setting.” He organized the show with “some local ‘on the ground’ helpers” and promoted the event on CBC Radio, Facebook, Web sites, and through word of mouth and local print media.

Even though Denman is a small community of only about 1,200, many people who call Denman Island home are artists or artisans in their own right. Dwyer is quite pleased with the turnout for their show, and even considers it one of the highlights of the evening.

“Almost one out of every ten people on the island came to the show,” Dwyer notes. “[That’s an] audience of over 100 people, [which is a] very big draw for Denman.”