Dennis Richard Christianson, trumpeter, flugelhornist, arranger, composer, bandleader, educator (born 12 September 1942 in Rockford, Illinois; died 10 February 2021). Denny Christianson was an important figure in the big band scene in Quebec. He formed the Denny Christianson Big Band in Montreal in 1981. It appeared annually at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM) and played internationally. Christianson also played and wrote for studio orchestras; recorded with such artists as Tony Bennett, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder; and taught at the University of Montreal, Concordia University, and McGill University. From 2001 until 2018, he was director of music studies at Toronto’s Humber College, where he developed one of the best jazz programs in the country.
Education and Studio Career
Denny Christianson studied at the US Navy School of Music in Washington, DC. He played at Harrap's Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, 1971–75 and worked as a studio trumpeter and arranger in Los Angeles 1975–80. In his career, he appeared on more than 250 albums by artists such as Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., The Jackson 5, Oliver Jones, Diana Krall, Smokey Robinson, Guido Basso and Stevie Wonder.
Christianson moved to Montreal in 1980 at the behest of Diane Dufresne. He continued to play and write for studio orchestras. Christianson also recorded music for commercials and soundtracks and was the music director on more than a dozen TV series.
He became a naturalized Canadian in 1991.
Denny Christianson Big Band
Christianson was an important figure in the big band scene in Quebec. In 1981, he formed the 19-man Denny Christianson Big Band. Its repertoire comprised vivid, challenging works by American composers Curt Berg, Alf Clausen, and Kim Richmond; as well as Christianson's own pieces (e.g., Straight, No Half Tone, Arlequin, More Pepper). For the better part of 20 years, the band appeared annually at the FIJM, on occasion accompanying pop performers at the Place des Arts (Ginette Reno and Michel Legrand in 1986; Shirley Bassey in 1990; Diane Schuur in 1991).
In 1986, the band’s album Doomsday Machine received a Juno Award nomination for Best Jazz Album. The band performed in Europe in 1987 (including the North Sea Jazz Festival, The Hague) and 1989 (Finland, Denmark, England, Sweden, and Holland), and toured Western Canada in 1990. Featured soloists included Christianson and Ron DiLauro (trumpets); Joe Christie Jr., Pat Vetter, Richard Beaudet, Jean LeBrun, and Jean Frechette (saxophones); Muhammad Abdul Al-Khabyyr (trombone); Richard Ring (guitar); and Kenny Alexander (piano). In 1986, the baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams recorded as a guest soloist with the band.
Also in 1986, Christianson began to lead the CJAD All-City Big Band. Christianson's arrangements have been recorded by Diane Dufresne, Jano Bergeron, Jean Lapointe, Ginette Reno, Véronique Sanson, Martine St-Clair and others. During his 15-year tenure, the band won national titles at MusicFest Canada and multiple awards from Jazz Report magazine.
Career in Music Education
Christianson taught music at the University of Montreal (1983–84), at Concordia University (1986–87), and at McGill University (1988–89). He also taught at John Abbott College and served as head of music at Centennial Academy.
From 2001 until 2018, he was director of music studies at Toronto’s Humber College. In this role, he established the school’s Bachelor of Music program and developed it into one of the best jazz programs in the country.
Beginning in 2002, Christianson headed the TD Young Jazz Showcase, an intensive annual workshop for select high school jazz musicians. He was also president of the board of MusicFest Canada from 2018 until his death in 2021 of Parkinson's disease and complications from leukemia.
Following his death, tributes poured in from Canada’s jazz community. A statement posted on the official Facebook page of Oscar Peterson read: “Denny Christianson has a storied history in Canadian music, education, and entertainment. A respected musician and bandleader himself, Denny’s fierce dedication to music education has left an indelible mark on generations of students, faculty, and friends.”
See also Jazz in Canada; Music Education; Music in Montreal; Music in Toronto.