Sonny Greenwich

Sonny Greenwich is a legend in jazz circles. He is a hardworking performer who is uncompromising in his standards and totally committed to his art. He is an innovator and has developed his own style for the guitar. He has many protégés in both jazz and rock music. His music has influenced many rock bands, such as Pink Floyd or Genesis. Greenwich was born in Hamilton Ontario and lived in Toronto until the late 1960s. Since 1974, he has lived exclusively in Montreal. Greenwich’s musical ability is described by the press as “absolute”. His combination of serenity, power, and beauty brings beauty and clarity every note that he plays, leaving his audience captivated in reverent silence. People can relate to his music because of the way he expresses and cares. His fan base is as large as that of the Soviet Union. The world-famous jazz guitarist is a regular performer in major American and Canadian cities. He has performed with Miles Davis and Charles Lloyd, Pharaoh Bernie, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. Sonny Greenwich, Shorter’s first choice for guitarist in his band, the New York Art Quartet (also featuring Joe Chambers and Billy Hart on drums), was Shorter after Wayne Shorter left Miles Davis. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (New York), 1988, “Some critics consider (Greenwich] the most important Canadian musician.” He is the only Canadian to be included in Francis Wolff’s 1995 book on jazz photography, The Blue Note Years. It features legendary Blue Note jazz musicians. In The Canadian Book of Lists (1979), he is listed as one of the 10 Best Canadian Jazz Musicians of All Time. Barney Kessel, in The History of the Guitar in Jazz 1983, writes that Sonny’s music is full of emotion and sincerity. His prominence has seen him featured in The Canadian Encyclopedia, Jazz in Canada: Fourteen Lives by Mark Miller, 1982, Who’s Who of Jazz in Montreal: John Gilmore 1989, Jazz Lives 100 Portraits in Jazz by Gene Lees, photographs taken John Reeves 1992. Greenwich has been featured in numerous jazz magazines and articles. Greenwich was first noticed for his jazz style during the 1960s, when Horace Silver and Lee Morgan brought Greenwich to Alfred Lion’s attention at Blue Note Records. 1965 saw Greenwich in New York with Charles Lloyd, a saxophonist. Greenwich’s fame brought him to the attention John Handy, a saxophonist who played with him in New York City, San Francisco and Seattle from December 1966 to March 1967. Columbia released “Spirituals to Swing” on January 15, 1967, after their concert at Carnegie Hall. Greenwich was also in New York that same year and recorded with Lee Morgan, saxophonist Hank Mobley, on Mobley’s album “Third Season” for Blue Note Records. He was about to record for Milestone’s Orrin Keepnews, when he had to leave Canada due to problems with his greencard. Greenwich was the leader of his own band, which included pianist Teddy Saunders and Jimmy Garrison. He also played drums at the Village Vanguard in New York. He played at the Colonial Tavern with Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, Chick corea, David Holland and Tony Williams in December 1969. The following year, he was downbill to Miles Davis at Massey Hall. Greenwich’s first album was “The Old Man and the Child”, which he recorded that year with the CBC. Greenwich recorded his second album “Sun Song” in 1974 with the CBC. He teamed up with Terry Clarke and Don Thompson to create it. He recorded “EVOL-UTION: Love’s Reverse” in 1978 at Yellowfingers, Toronto on PM Records with Gene Perla and Don Thompson. Greenwich performed with his quartet, Fred Henke and Ron Seguin, at jazz festivals in Montreal, Toronto and New York, as well as recording two albums for the Justin Time label. The first, “Bird of Paradise”, was released in 1987. The second, “Live at Sweet Basil”, was recorded during a performance at New York’s Greenwich Village Jazz Festival in 1988. In 1989, “Live at Sweet Basil”, was nominated for a FELIX at the ADISQ Awards Montreal in the Jazz Album of the year category. Greenwich and Margie Gillis, one the most prominent solo dancers in Canada, were the stars of a benefit concert in June 1989. Each performer performed separately, with the final performance being a collaboration work in which Greenwich composed the music. Greenwich describes his early influences and early music-making methods. He says that it all started with Sonny Rollins, the way he played his Tenor Sax. After hearing his huge sound, I thought, “This is what I want to do on the guitar. This sound, this feeling!” From there, I moved on to Miles Davis or John Coltrane. They inspired me to play my instrument more like an instrument than a guitar. Back then, I was always looking for the right style. Charlie Parker’s late teens statements that he listened to classical music compelled me to follow his lead, which I do to this day. My solo playing was based upon a cubist artist Paul Klee’s interpretation of the fretboard. I also used diagrams to show the structure of the fretboard, while my chordal approach was inspired by the music of Ravel and Debussy, Hindemith and Red Garland. I was also fascinated in the control of the human voice and the timbre, so I listened to Maria Callas and made sound studies. Greenwich says that his music ranges from ballads and fiery, free pieces. It’s like an ocean. You need to have both the storm and calm after. The one helps the other. It is music with a spiritual foundation that aims to make people feel good. This is not preaching. It’s a feeling I have of beauty that I want to share with others. I hope it can help them feel better. Greenwich began to focus more on composition in the latter part of 1991. He formed a quintet and a sextet with trumpet and saxophone, and a nine-piece band with trombone and percussion for CBC’s jazz beat series. These productions, Greenwich’s self-described foray into mainstream jazz, were released on 1993’s CD “Standard Idioms”. They received both JUNO nominations and FELIX nominations. He was a member of the Toronto Jazz Festival in 1993 with Kenny Wheeler. In Montreal, he led his own nine-piece band. The SONNY GREENWICH UNIVERSAL LANGUAGEBAND was born in late 1993. He called it “HEAVENLY FIGHTS OVER EARTHY HYTHMS”. Greenwich saw this band evolve to include changing members and instrumentation. He intended to use it to create stylistically diverse music projects. This concept was first recorded on the JUNO-nominated CD, “Hymn To the Earth”. Greenwich was reintroduced to the public’s attention in 1995, a feat not seen since the early 1970s. Greenwich was busy performing in concert venues (Montreal and Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton), and recording sessions. One session was as co-leader in a collaboration he had with his son, Sonny Greenwich Jr., the lead guitarist of the funk-rock band Bootsauce; another as guest with Jane Bunnett, Alain Caron and Hilario Duran on a session for the Cuban. A third documentary entitled “It Ain’t All Jazz” by Sussex Productions dealt in part with his unique career. Greenwich, who was still in the band, formed a smaller group called Concepts (an offshoot from the Universal Language Band), which performed with a more free-flowing approach to standards and compositions. This is similar to Miles Davis’s 70s era with Wayne, Herbie and Ron. This approach is illustrated by the composition “Free Form” on the CD “Spirit in the Air”. In 1996, “Spirit in the Air”, was nominated to the JUNO Awards. Greenwich performed at the Montreal Bistro in Toronto with Kenny Wheeler in April 1997. Jane Bunnett also performed at his concert at Toronto Jazz Festival in Toronto. Sackville Records’ 2000 release, “Days Gone By”, featured Greenwich and Ed Bickert playing guitars, Don Thompson on bass and Terry Clarke drumming. Greenwich released “Fragments Of A Memory” from Cornerstone Records in 2001. It featured many new compositions. He also played club dates in Toronto, Montreal, and continued to grow as a composer by adding new compositions to the repertoire. Greenwich recorded a CD titled “Special Angel” with Canadian jazz pianist Marilyn Lerner. It was released through CBC Records and featured five new Greenwich compositions. In 2003, he performed in Toronto with his band and also with Marilyn Lerner. The Sonny Greenwich/Marilyn Lerner CD “Special Angel” (CBC Records), won the Western Canadian Music Award in Calgary, Alberta in the Outstanding Jazz Recording category. Greenwich was a member of the Upstairs Club, Montreal, as well as the Marilyn Lerner Quintet at The Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, during 2005 and 2006. Ernie Nelson, Greenwich’s former vocalist, released a CD entitled “Just for the Beauty”, which featured Greenwich as a guest artist. The National Library in Ottawa, The Jazz Festival, Montreal and Halifax were some of the recent venues where Marilyn Lerner performed as a duo. Greenwich was made a member of The Order of Canada in November 2005 for his outstanding contribution to Canada and Canadians within the field of Performing Arts/Music. from

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