Nelson Symonds

  • 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, African Nova Scotian Music Association

1933 was a very important year. North America was in the middle of the great depression. In the United States President Franklin D. Rosevelt delivered his most famous speech, proclaiming "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In Canada, the 17th Canadian Parliament was created and a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit greenland and the N.W.T. In Halifax, Nova Scotia birth was given to a new star.

At the age of nine, he began playing the banjo and then set his signts on the guitar at the age of eleven. Before long he and his cousins Leo and Ivan Symonds were playing for dances and community functions all over Halifax. The name Nelson Symonds would soon become forever recognized as one of the greatest Jazz guitarists of our time.

By 1955 he was touring with carnivals in Canada and the United States. He settled in Montreal in 1958 and devoted himself to Jazz. He began playing with a group named The Stablemates, led by Alfie Wade Jr. By the 1960's he had gained such a name for himself in Montreal that artists from New York like Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Brother Jack McDuff and Roland Kirk, would come to see, or play with him. It was during this time he would accompany great American musicians and singers like the one and only Ray Charles and Sarah Vaughan.

The greatest moment in his career came when Jazz giants John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery offered to join his group.

Throughout this period, Nelson played mainly with bassist Charlie Biddle and drummer Norman Marshall Villeneuve at venues such as the Black Button and Rockheads Paradise. During the 1970's, Symonds and Biddle performed as a duo at numerous Laurentian resorts. Throughout his more than 30 year career he would delight audiences at all the major Jazz venues in Montreal.

He would be heard on various CBC Radio Jazz series and would be featured in two film documentaries in the 1980's. In 1992 he released his first and only album (as a leader), Getting Personal. In 1993 he also appeared as a sideman on saxophonist Dave Turners album Live-Thank You For Your Hospitality and The Pulse Brothers.

Twelve years after undergoing a quadruple bupass, Nelson Symonds passed away in Montreal on October 11,th, 2008 from a heart attack.

His music lives on in our minds, our hearts and our souls.