Nelson Symonds Day

September 24, 1933 – October 11, 2008

A birthday tribute to the Canadian guitarist

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Nelson Symonds was born Sept. 24, 1933 in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Self-taught, Symonds never learned to read music.

After briefly playing banjo, Symonds switched permanently to the guitar as a teenager, gaining experience performing in the United States during 1955-58 with a travelling carnival.

In 1958, Symonds settled in Montreal, played jazz in a group called “The Stablemates.”

He was praised by B.B. King and was reportedly Wes Montgomery’s favorite guitarist.

Symonds worked for over 40 years, mostly in Montreal and often with bassist Charles Biddle in trios and duos; he also appeared on stage with such notables as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Blue Mitchell, Benny Golson, Thad Jones, Pepper Adams, George Coleman, Booker Ervin, and Brother Jack McDuff.

Symonds avoided recording for years, just cutting three songs in 1961 with pianist-singer Billy Horne; he relented in the 1990s when he led a quartet set and appeared on albums led by altoist Dave Turner, bassist Bernard Primeau, and the Vic Vogel Big Band.

Heart disease forced his retirement in 1996, 12 years before he passed away on Oct. 16, 2008 at the age of 75.

From 1993, Nelson Symonds is featured playing with Dave Turner’s group (along with bassist David Gelfand and drummer Claude Lavergne), taking an outstanding solo on “There Will Never Be Another You.”

-Scott Yanow


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