Michael (James Aleck) Snow. Pianist, trumpeter, composer, film maker, sculptor, painter, photographer, b Toronto 10 Dec 1929. Although more immediately identified with the visual arts (eg, the sculpture-graphic series Walking Woman,1961-7, and the films Wavelength, 1967, and La Région centrale, 1970-1), Snow has also been involved for many years in improvised music. He was encouraged by the boogie-woogie pianist Jimmy Yancey during visits to Chicago in the late 1940s, and played piano in Toronto traditional-jazz groups while a student 1948-52 at the Ontario College of Art. He took up the trumpet in the early 1950s.
After playing piano with the dixieland trumpeter Mike White 1958-61 and with his own bebop groups 1958-62, Snow was drawn to free jazz through his association with the Artists' Jazz Band in Toronto and with the free-jazz movement's leaders in New York, some of whom (Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, et al) appeared in his film New York Eye and Ear Control (1964). He has continued to perform with the Artists' Jazz Band and was a member 1966-7 of the Toronto New Music Ensemble and a founder in 1974 of the CCMC. The last, with which he has played piano, trumpet, guitar and synthesizer, served as the focus of his musical activities through the 1980s, although he also gave solo piano concerts in Toronto, Quebec City and New York.
Snow's solo albums, meanwhile, extend into the medium of sound the same extensive manipulation of a single idea theme or technique that is characteristic of his work in the visual arts - eg, the 50-minute Sinoms, in which he has multi-tracked some 20 voices, with as many different French and English accents, reading a complete list of the mayors of Quebec City, at some points making a simple juxtaposition of pronunciation and at others creating the effect of a choir. In his films, beginning with New York Eye and Ear Control, he has often drawn musical and visual elements together to create an 'image-sound composition'. Snow received a Molson Prize in 1979, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981.