Don Palmer | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Don Palmer

Don (Donald Charles) Palmer. Saxophonist, flutist, teacher, b Sydney, NS, 9 Apr 1939.

Palmer, Don

Don (Donald Charles) Palmer. Saxophonist, flutist, teacher, b Sydney, NS, 9 Apr 1939. Son of 'Chipper' (Harris Harding) Palmer, a singer in the Bing Crosby style who was popular in Cape Breton during the late 1920s and the 1930s, he played clarinet at 17 in the Royal Canadian Artillery Band based in Halifax, attended the Maritime Cons 1956-9, and concurrently played alto saxophone at the musician-run jazz club known as 777 Barrington Street. Moving to New York in 1959, Palmer studied for several years with Lee Konitz (saxophone) and Lennie Tristano (theory) and more briefly with, among others, Joe Allard (saxophone), Danny Banks and Harold Bennett (flute), and Hall Overton (theory).

From New York he travelled in the early 1960s as a member of dance bands led by Buddy Morrow, Les and Larry Elgart, Claude Thornhill, and others. Locally, he played and recorded as the lead altoist with the Latin orchestras of Machito, LaLupe, Julio Gutierrez, Charlie Palmieri and, 1969-72, Tito Puente, with whom he toured in South America. Palmer also performed at the 1974 Newport Jazz Festival with Teo Macero, played on occasion with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard, and was a member of Broadway pit bands - eg, for Grease.

Palmer returned to Sydney as artist-in-residence at the College of Cape Breton 1975-7 and became director of jazz studies at Dalhousie University in 1978. His pupils have included John Hollis, Kirk MacDonald, Mike Murley, Dave Parker, and Brigham Phillips. He has worked in CBC Halifax studio orchestras, and played in several jazz groups with Skip Beckwith, Joe Sealy, the drummer Jerry Granelli, and others, at Pepe's in Halifax, and in clubs and concerts elsewhere in the Maritimes. Palmer was a co-founder (with Jo Stern) in 1987, and subsequently artistic director, of the Atlantic Jazz Festival, held in Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford, NS.

His discography includes LPs with Puente for the Tico label (Palladium Days, 1970), with Konitz for Groove Merchant (Chicago 'n All That Jazz, 1975), and Sealy for Solar (Sailing Home, 1976). In his alto playing, Palmer has personalized Konitz's idiosyncratically melodic style with a dryer, raspy tone and more aggressively defined sense of rhythm.

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