Robbins, Dave

"He changed Vancouver from being a sort of C+ jazz situation to being a triple-A."
-Bobby Hales

INSTRUMENTS Composer/Arranger, Trombone
"Let me put it this way. You can put together three big bands of people who were either playing with Dave in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties or who worked under him and learned so much from him."
-Alan Matheson

"I can't stress enough what a great mentor he was," says Alan Matheson, who speaks on behalf of literally dozens and dozens of musicians who continue to pass on the legacy of Dave Robbins as performers, bandleaders, and music educators on the West Coast and in other music communities across Canada today. An exceptionally gifted and versatile musician, Dave Robbins will not only be remembered for his "beautiful tone and fantastic sound" on the trombone, but also for his extraordinary brilliance and dedication as a prolific composer, arranger, and music educator.

Dave Robbins' first instrument was actually the violin. Born in Greenburg, Indiana, Robbins grew up in Texas and was on a family trip somewhere in Oklahoma where the car happened to be parked outside an old Baptist church. Not only was Robbins enticed by the sound of gospel music, he was turned on by the choir of trombones he heard coming from inside. Also a "more than competent" trumpet and cornet player, in 1942 Robbins joined the US Marine Band for which he composed all kinds of arrangements. After freelancing around Los Angeles (including playing in the Los Angeles Philharmonic), Robbins got his first big break as a trombonist with famed trumpeter Harry James from 1948-1951 and continued to work with the Harry James band into the 1970s. Robbins can be heard on the soundtrack of the 1950 film "Young Man with a Horn" starring Doris Day.

"On the other hand, thank goodness he came here because he really did create so much work here and encouraged so much talent."
-Alan Matheson

In 1951, Dave Robbins regrettably turned down an offer to play in Duke Ellington's band. Choosing to move to Vancouver and raise his family of two children instead, Robbins quickly became a busy and prominent leader in the local music community. On top of writing, playing, and arranging a variety of music for countless CBC radio broadcasts (including his own "Jazz Canadiana", "Jazz Workshop", "Sound of the Sixties") and television shows, Robbins was principal trombone for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (1956-1972) and bandleader at the Cave for many years (to name only a few of his engagements).

"Dave was a really good teacher as he always was," says Bobby Hales who, along with many other Vancouver musicians including Paul Ruhland, was mentored and encouraged by Robbins to write big band arrangements for Robbins' weekly shows on CBC Radio. "He had a great ability to teach professionals to show them that being good isn't good enough," Hales continues. "He tightened things up to the point where you'd say, 'Gee, that sounds fantastic.'"

Alan Matheson says, "Dave worked hard to sell the trombone." This was clearly evident in Dave Robbins' show during the 1980s called "Trombones Incorporated" which featured a unique choir of six trombones and vocalists performing pop tunes. As an arranger, Robbins never shied away from orchestral ensembles that included strings, french horns, trumpets, trombones, and all kinds of doublings on different instruments. Robbins was active as a player until the mid-1990s when he moved to the Sunshine Coast, but not before teaching at the University of British Columbia (UBC) during the very first days of the UBC Music School in addition to establishing the Jazz Studies program at Vancouver Community College.


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  • Robbins, Dave
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Bobby Hales on Dave Robbins


JazzStreet Vancouver Interview
Hales, Bobby. Personal Interview with Fred Stride. Vancouver, BC. 10 Nov 2005.

JazzStreet Vancouver: Local Legends
Matheson, Alan. Public Lecture. "JazzStreet Vancouver: Local Legends." Vancouver, BC. 03 Jun 2008.