A Brief History of Jazz and Creative Music

Banff Centre has been training artists since 1933 in the Canadian Rockies. Jazz programs at Banff Centre started in 1974 when Oscar Peterson and Phil Nimmons were invited to spearhead a jazz workshop, which was a great success. 

The annual summer workshops evolved from a daring, all-Canadian experiment in jazz education to a mature, internationally-acclaimed program at the leading edge of developments in jazz: The Banff International  Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. 

Over the decades, the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music has become one of the most important international training grounds for improvising jazz musicians and composers. Banff Centre jazz alumni have achieved prominence in Canada, the United States, and Europe. An international network of alumni has fostered exciting musical developments and Banff Centre jazz participants continue to assume positions of leadership in the creative music community worldwide. 

Pianist, composer and music educator Vijay Iyer has led the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music since 2013, which continues to take place every summer at Banff Centre. 

To view highlights from Banff Centre’s history of jazz and creative music please scroll down to the dateline. 

To learn more about current music programs being offered please click here. 


1972: A chance meeting in Toronto between Banff Centre President David Leighton and Canadian jazz musicians Oscar Peterson and Phil Nimmons leads to a discussion on jazz education, including an invitation for the two esteemed musicians to lead a jazz workshop at Banff Centre.

1974: Oscar Peterson and Phil Nimmons accept Leighton’s invitation and they teach a summer jazz workshop at Banff Centre, which featured a faculty of accomplished jazz musicians including Dave Young, Stan Perry, and Gary Gross. The weeklong workshop was so successful that it was decided to repeat the experiment the following summer. One of the students in that first workshop was Michael Century, who would later become Banff Centre’s director of program development.

1975-1981: Nimmons is appointed artistic head of jazz and extends the summer program to two weeks with seven guest faculty members.


1980: A pilot project in improvisational composition is organized, in collaboration with the Creative Music Studio of Woodstock, New York, under the direction of Karl Berger.

1982: Dave Holland, Don Thompson, and Kenny Wheeler lead the jazz workshop and shift the faculty focus from Canadian to international musicians.

1983-1990: Dave Holland becomes artistic head of jazz programs, and over the next seven years leads the workshop.

1986: Abraham Adzenyah, a fifth-generation master drummer from Ghana, runs workshops in African drumming and rhythm.

1989: Holland turns over the leadership of jazz programming to Steve Coleman.


1991-1998: Hugh Fraser becomes head of the jazz summer workshop and in 1993 the jazz orchestra workshop. Fraser was an alumnus of the summer jazz program and previously served as faculty.

1993: Fraser leads the first Banff Jazz Orchestra Workshop with guest Muhal Richard Abrams.

1994: The Banff Jazz Orchestra features Slide Hampton and Maynard Ferguson.

1996: The first of several Vocal Jazz Workshops is led by Jay Clayton and Sheila Jordan and includes Banff Centre alumnus Bill Emes as faculty.

1998: The 25th anniversary of Banff Centre’s jazz program is celebrated with the return of visiting artists Phil Nimmons, Dave Holland, and Dave Liebman, among others.

1999-2002: New York pianist and composer Kenny Werner is appointed artist-in-residence and he brings internationally recognized jazz musicians to the workshop including Joe Lovano and Chris Potter, Dave Douglas, Joey Baron, Jim Black, and Mark Feldman.


2002: Kenny Werner introduces British jazz composer and instrumentalist Django Bates to the workshop. Music is selected from the 1999 summer program with commentary by Werner and broadcasted on National Public Radio (NPR) in a series of programs during the fall of that year.

2002-2012: Dave Douglas serves as artist-in-residence and director of jazz programs. The program name changes to Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music.

2003-2006: Generous financial support of scholarships allows Douglas to bring to Banff Centre such artists as Mark Turner, Mike Murley, Greg Osby, Don Byron, Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie, Jason Moran, James Genus, Mark Dresser, Andrew Downing, Clarence Penn, Dylan van der Schyff, Peggy Lee, Brad Turner, and George Lewis.

2013: Internationally acclaimed pianist, composer and music educator Vijay Iyer leads the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, which continues to take place every summer and features faculty and performances from some of the most extraordinary jazz musicians from across North America and beyond.