with Dal Richards at the Vancouver Pacific National Exhibition
The New Year of 2016 begins on the somber note of the passing last evening of bandleader Dal Richards (1918 – 2015), often referred to as “Canada’s King of Swing.”
Dal led one of North America’s foremost swing bands on an unparalleled run of nearly eight decades, playing for many years in the Hotel Vancouver’s Panorama Room (whose broadcasts were heard coast to coast), for 67 summers at the Vancouver Pacific National Exhibition, at innumerable New Year’s celebrations and Christmas parties and weddings, including my own. He was admitted to the Order of Canada and the Order and British Columbia, was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and inducted into the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame. Musical joy, personal optimism, infectious good humor, boundless energy and joie de vivre seemed to follow Dal Richards as often as he smiled, which was constantly.
Dal’s obituary on the CBC website can be read here, but it does scant justice to the experience of meeting the man, hearing him sing the great popular classics of the 1930s and 1940s in warm buttery tones, or playing the saxophone in a manner that defined “mellow.” Dal’s way with “Where or When,” “As Time Goes By” and his band’s signature theme “The Hour of Parting,” was peerless. At my own wedding in 2006, I was startled to hear the Dal Richards Orchestra launch into Richard Whiting’s “Japanese Sandman” — one of my favorite dance tunes because of its charmingly naïve invocation of Japanese serenity. After dancing with Kayoko in rapt joy, I asked Dal when he had last played the song. “Oh, I can’t even remember… probably the 1930s,” he chuckled. Regardless, he had the chart and the parts on hand, saved up for just the right occasion. That’s but one small story of a musician who plied his trade at the top level of professionalism.
I once asked Dal if he could recount what might have been his most important appearance. I anticipated his recalling some evening at New York’s Hotel Astor or the Los Angeles Palladium, jamming with Benny Goodman or Bing Crosby. But without a pause, he replied “Why, the gig I’m doing right now.” I’ve stolen that line from Dal, and recount it often to my students, too.
With typically perfect timing, Dal Richards left us just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. No doubt he was called to an important venue for a New Year’s concert we can only imagine. Fortunately Dal has left us a large legacy of recordings to ensure that his music here will never have an Hour of Parting.