Oliver Gannon (born 23 March 1943) is an Irish-born Canadian composer and musician. He is one of Canada's best known jazz guitarists, a winner of the National Jazz Award's Guitarist of the Year, and is best known for his collaborations with the late Fraser MacPherson that led to a 1983 Juno award for Best Jazz Album.
Eldest son of Irish jazz pianist Joe Gannon, Oliver was born in Dublin, and his family emigrated to Winnipeg Canada in 1957 when he was 14. Oliver began playing in his late teens, after he purchased a Gibson ES-125 electric guitar and amplifier with his leftover tuition money earned from his summer job.
Originally enrolled at the University of Manitoba to study engineering, Gannon abruptly changed his focus: "I remember a thermodynamics class at 8 o'clock in the morning, having been playing the night before, and the blackboard was full of the Second Law of Thermodynamics or something, and I looked up at that and said, 'Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life, or do I want to do what I was doing last night?' A light bulb went off and I literally got up in the middle of the class, walked out, and never came back." In 1964, Oliver was accepted at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he studied composition and arranging with Herb Pomeroy and William Malloff, graduating with a Bachelor of Music in 1969. Gannon credits this period in Boston with exposure to some of the great jazz artists, such as Wes Montgomery, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, and Paul Chambers.
Returning to Canada in 1969, Oliver settled in Vancouver, where he soon became a 'go to' session musician. He was soon a regular at the Cave Supper Club, joining in with Fraser MacPherson's big band. "The Cave band was such a joy to play," remembers Gannon. "These guys were such excellent readers... They would play a brand new show perfectly the first time."
In 1970 he helped co-found the fusion group Pacific Salt, with five of Vancouver's premier jazz musicians: trombonist Ian McDougall, Don Clark (trumpet), Ron Johnston (piano), Tony Clitheroe (bass, bass guitar), and George Ursan (drums). Pacific Salt recorded three LPs, and was inactive by the early 1980s. As a trio, bandmates McDougall, Gannon, and Johnston recorded in 1976 and 1988 and in 1990 toured the Canadian festival circuit under the name RIO.
In 1975 Oliver was invited by prominent tenor saxophonist Fraser MacPherson to join a new trio along with bassist Wyatt Ruther. The collaborative relationship with Fraser MacPherson would last until MacPherson's death in 1993. Gannon has participated in countless groups in the Vancouver area and has played at most major festivals in the world: Montreux Jazz Festival (1979 ); North Sea Jazz Festival (1979 ); Concord Jazz Festival (1981 ); Montreal Jazz Festival (1982, 1984, 1995, 1997); Toronto Jazz Festival (1986, 1989, 1995, and 1998), Edmonton's Jazz City (1985), and appearances in his home town at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
With Fraser MacPherson's trio "Fraser & Friends", Gannon toured Russia, (then the U.S.S.R), an unprecedented four times starting in 1978, the first Canadian group to tour the Soviet Union under the Soviet-Canadian Cultural Exchange Treaty. The group played in Moscow and Leningrad, in what was originally booked to be nine concerts, but was expanded to thirteen over the ten days of the tour. The group became the first North American jazz ensemble to be invited back, and they performed 3 subsequent tours in 1981, 1984 and 1986.
Oliver continues to play sessions around the West Coast and Vancouver area, including Vancouver's the Cellar, and his recordings are heard on Jazz music stations worldwide. His latest collaborators are longtime friends Ian McDougall, Ron Johnston, and Bill Coon, and playing with other talented Vancouver players such as Cory Weeds, Jodi Proznick, and pianist Miles Black, who he calls 'one of the best piano players in the world.'
As well as being a sought after performer, Gannon expanded his musical activities to musical education and entertainment as musical director for PG Music Inc., a software company founded by his younger brother Dr. Peter Gannon. He was with the company since it's inception in 1989, and has served as the executive producer of program content and has guided the creation of many music instructional software titles complete with transcripts, including The Jazz Guitarist, the Jazz Guitar Master Class and Oscar Peterson Note-for-Note, an instructional CD-ROM. Oliver has also performed and produced hundreds of hours of musical content for the company's flagship musical accompaniment and creation product Band-in-a-Box. Oliver retired from the company in 2008.
In 1983 Gannon and MacPherson shared the Juno Award (Canadian Grammy) for Best Traditional Jazz Album for their LP of duets, I Didn't Know About You. In 2003 Oliver was named Canada's "Best Jazz Guitarist of the Year" by the National Jazz Awards. Oliver has performed on many Juno nominated albums, including three with Ian McDougall: Best Traditional Jazz Album, In A Sentimental Mood (2006), Instrumental Album of the Year The Very Thought Of You (2013), and Traditional Jazz Album, The Ian McDougall 12tet Live (2014). Oliver played on Ross Taggart & Co. nominated for Best Jazz Album at the West Coast Music Awards in 1999.
With MacPherson, Gannon employed an orchestral accompaniment style, while on his own recordings, he displays a masterful, linear, bop-based style, showing his early roots as an admirer of Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery, and the influence of Art Blakey. Other critics have acknowledged Gannon's 'slick, cool stylings', and "studies in careful and complete orchestration. His lines could be crisp and harmonically advanced, or fluid and lyrical."
Oliver has two brothers, Bill and Peter, and three sisters, Brenda, Shivon, and Germaine. He is married to accomplished professional singer and bassist Patty Hervey, with whom he has two children, David and Nicole.
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