Who was Gordon Delamont?

A major figure in Canadian music history, Gordon (Gord) Delamont was a great and influential teacher. His list of notable students reads like a Canadian jazz composer/arranger all-star team. Wikipedia lists the following partial list:  Peter AppleyardGustav CiamagaRon CollierJimmy DaleHagood HardyHerbie HelbigPaul HoffertMoe KoffmanRob McConnellBen McPeekBernie PiltchPaul ReadFred StoneNorman SymondsRick WilkinsMaribeth Solomon, among others.

He was also a composer with a unique voice. Regrettably, few are familiar with his music. Wikipedia mentions his  “Three Entertainments for Saxophone Quartet” which is published by Kendor Music. While it bears his personal stamp, the composition is not, and let me be clear this is a very personal opinion, his best or most representative work. From my perspective, his three-movement suite commissioned by the Ontario government for Expo ’67 in Montreal is quintessential Delamont. The orchestration is clear, simple, varied and rich. His use of serial techniques, which he taught us, is expertly and musically on display. The melodic lines are strong, the rhythms swinging and the harmonies fresh and engaging. The suite was recorded by a-list Toronto musicians and played on a loop at the Ontario Pavilion in Montreal in’67. Not only did it sound great on its own terms, but it captured a distinct Canadian vibe. It sounded like Canada!

I have been studying Gordon’s work lately and my first task (underway) is an analysis of the Ontario Suite. I will need permission to publish the paper because it contains score excerpts, and also, I need to track down who owns the performance rights. Hopefully permissions will be obtained soon, and I will be able to bring some well-deserved attention to this historically and artistically important composition.

How I Discovered Gordon Delamont and became his student:

When I was in my early-teens I had already been taking piano lessons (in the typical European tradition – largely German and French composers). I hadn’t played much contemporary music and if there were any Canadian composers present in my studies, I can’t remember any. Not surprisingly (as I look back) my teacher, Edith Goldthorpe, offered no opportunities to play music from the American ‘popular’ songbook or jazz of any kind. We marched down the Royal Conservatory path, playing the pieces in their graded curriculum. But Edith, to her credit, did supplement these pieces with a healthy dose of Beethoven, Kuhlau, Czerny and a few others. But my interests had already evolved. I started to hear a bit of Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and then Herbie Hancock among others. These master players were heavily influential, but so were their compositions. I began to really want to write my own music. I listened to lots of ‘classical’ recordings (my dad’s small collection). Also, I had started paying attention to film/tv music composed by Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, and others. Oliver Nelson’s tv music killed me, on top of his jazz recordings. So many of these musicians could play and write as well. And that is what I wanted to do.

So, I started off improvising at the piano. First, I slowly worked out some familiar tunes at the piano using my ear. Then I started to copy a few things I heard on records. My ear improved, and I wrote a few short piano pieces (nothing to write home about, as the saying goes). I was hungry to learn and my parents, recognizing that I was eager and needed help, bought me a copy of Henry Mancini’s “Sounds and Scores”. That was a game changer because Mancini showed score layout, the importance of learning to write and read transposed scores, orchestration both typical and atypical. I started to write out individual parts for some of the scores and I started to write for 3 horns and rhythm section. (I had joined a band by that time). My efforts were well-intentioned but much more training and education were required.

When I was 18, I contacted (the late, great) Doug Riley who I knew as a young and highly successful pianist, organist and arranger/composer. I remember thinking Doug was doing what I would like to be doing, so I asked his advice. He immediately responded. Call Gord Delamont.

Ok, I asked myself. Who is Gord Delamont? Some digging around and I found out that I had been steered to one of the most important and successful teachers in the country. He had published books on harmony and orchestration and taught many of Canada’s most respected and successful jazz musicians. That lead to my contacting him to ask for lessons and he agreed to see me for an assessment. I recall the trip to his home in the northern part of the city and being quite excited and anxious. He was kind, but business-like in that first meeting. He administered some ear tests and we spent some time talking about my musical aspirations and experience. He explained his approach to teaching and also laid down the ground rules for attending my lessons and completing assignments. I was relieved and excited when he said he would take me on as a student. But there was a wait list. In my case, that turned out to be about 6 months.

A bit of context is needed here. I had already begun my undergraduate studies at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. It was challenging and I was learning a lot, but I knew, once I was into it, that I was not going to get instruction in jazz at all. And I really wanted to study jazz composition and arranging. The only answer was to add supplemental studies with Delamont. Prior to my studying at the university I had studied harmony and counterpoint with Canadian composer, Walter Buczynski and had passed the required examinations to qualify for studies at U of T. So, I wasn’t brand new to theoretical studies.

Finally, Gordon called, and lessons commenced. I learned quickly that his approach was going to be very detailed and thorough. He took into account my previous studies but insisted that we start from scratch and work quickly (but thoroughly what I had learned or partially learned from other teachers and in university courses taken to date.

…to be continued.