I mentioned Phil Nimmons here the other day, and today The Toronto Star’s Ashante Infantry has a nice piece about Nimmons and one of his many former star pupils. Typically, Phil shrugs off any credit for drummer Ernesto Cervini’s development while the young man was studying at the University of Toronto.
Aside from the energy and vision Phil brought to the task of creating jazz programs in Toronto, Banff and elsewhere across Canada, his legacy is the approach to performance-based learning that he implemented wherever he went.
As he told me a couple of years in a piece that’s archived here, one of the biggest challenges he faces in teaching improvisation in an institutional setting is inspiring students to allow the music they create to carry them beyond the sterility of the practice room.
Woodshedding is a tried-and-true jazz tradition, of course, but the big knock on a lot of contemporary musicians is the fact that universities and jazz camps have taken the place of learning on the job. Wherever you study the basics and hone your technique, though, the best players are always those who can extend their imagination past the ‘shed to the stage. That hasn’t changed since Charlie Parker’s day.
That puts me in mind of Michael Brecker, whose abbreviated life was celebrated in Manhattan the other night. Aside from the heights he scaled as a performer, Brecker was loved by music students for his ability to successfully straddle the worlds of formal academia and live performance. Like Dave Liebman – one of many who were on hand to fete Brecker – he was a leading member of the first generation that showed that you can learn your stuff away from the bandstand and still bring it when the time comes.