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Canadian Heritage

Ron Collier


RONALD (RON) COLLIER (trombonist, composer, arranger, conductor, educator) was born on July 3, 1930 in Coleman, Alberta, Canada, and passed away October 22, 2003 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Collier began his early musical training in Vancouver when he was 13 years old, and was soon playing trombone in the Kitsilano Boys' Band. He studied composition with Gordon Delamont in Toronto from 1951 to 1954 and with the first Canada Council grant ever given to a jazz composer, was able to study with George Russell and Hall Overton in New York in 1961 and ’62.

Collier was a key part of a Canadian ‘third stream’ jazz scene in the late '50s, backing up visiting jazz luminaries including Billie Holiday, working as a sideman with illustrious bandleaders like Charles Mingus, and composing memorable works including Sonata featuring pianist Norman Amadio in a quintet setting. He toured Canada with Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen throughout much of the 1950’s, the same period when the diverse trombonist freelanced with the Toronto Symphony, the National Ballet Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, and on numerous CBC Radio and Television shows. While a member of Norman Symonds' Jazz Octet, Collier also led his own jazz quartet from 1954 to 1957, latterly expanding it to larger ensembles and, on increasing occasions, a big band.

When the Stratford Festival started producing a summer jazz concert series in the ’50s, one of the featured Canadian groups was frequently Collier’s. His jazz group was also a feature of Expo ’67 in Montreal. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, he wrote scores for the play The Mechanic for the ballet Aurora Borealis and for the feature films Face Off, A Fan's Notes, and Paperback Hero. His 1965 composition Waterfront, Night Thoughts was recorded by Robert Aitken.

As a composer/arranger, Ron Collier wrote for almost every conceivable combination of instruments -- solo flute with piano, strings, woodwind groups, brass groups, full orchestra, concert band, big band, and studio orchestras -- but he is likely best-known for his collaborations with Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra in the 1970s. Even though Collier had seen Ellington’s orchestra in concert in Vancouver in the late ’40s, and worked at the Stratford Festival in the ’50s when Ellington was giving concerts there, the two didn’t actually meet until 1967 when Louis Applebaum put together a project to feature the work of three Canadian composers (Norm Symonds, Gordon Delamont, and Ron Collier) and approached Duke Ellington to ask if he would be willing to work with the Canadian writers. Ellington agreed, and the still-available Attic recording including two Ron Collier compositions – Aurora Borealis and Silent Night, Lonely Night – was the result.

A year later, Collier conducted an orchestra with Ellington as guest soloist in Detroit in a performance of Aurora Borealis, Ellington later invited Collier to write the arrangements for an album he was doing with his own band, and the two charts he wrote for that record launched a lengthy collaboration between Collier and Ellington which would continue and grow for several years, with Collier on occasion even conducting the orchestra.

In 1972, Ron Collier became the composer in residence at Humber College in Toronto. Two years later, he began teaching composition and arranging there, and remained an important member of the faculty until he retired in 1994. Collier’s connections with Duke Ellington led to Ellington’s visit to the college in 1973 as the music program’s first guest. He directed the college's stage band to victory at the Canadian Stage Band Festival in 1975, 1982, and 1986, and led Humber ensembles in concert and TV appearances in the Toronto area and on tour.

When Humber Director of Music, Denny Christianson, announced the establishment of the Ron Collier Memorial Scholarship after Collier’s death, he said, “Collier’s influence as a bandleader, composer/arranger, teacher and mentor have left their mark on an entire generation of students and faculty who have been associated with Humber Music.” Collier’s students from Humber College include many of the busiest and most creative musicians on the jazz and commercial music scene in Canada today.

After retiring from Humber College, Collier continued to turn out memorable writing projects. In 1997, he completed a version of Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite for jazz orchestra, an hour-long, eight-movement work which was premiered in Vancouver in 1997, and performed again at the 1998 Toronto and Ottawa jazz festivals, although it was never recorded. The Ron Collier Band opened the 2000 du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival in Toronto before a standing room only crowd.


1961 - Awarded the first Canada Council grant ever given to a jazz composer for studies with George Russell (the Lydian chromatic concept of tonal organization) and Hall Overton (orchestration) in New York (1961 and 1962)

2003 - Named an Officer of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour given in this country, granted to Canadian citizens 'for outstanding achievement and service to the country or to humanity at large'