He is the province’s coolest cat. Synonymous with the Big Band era, bandleader Dal Richards continues to entertain. One of the industry’s hardest working professionals, the 94-year-old maintains an active schedule, with more than 100 musical and speaking engagements booked this year, and a weekly radio program on AM650.
Dr. Swing, as he’s been affectionately called, has been honoured many times for his music and work with charities including Variety, The Children’s Charity. He’s a recipient of the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and a B.C Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee. When he lifts his baton to conduct Kerrisdale’s Magee Jazz Band on May 31, the legendary bandleader and Magee grad will add one more title to his already impressive list of accomplishments.
The Vancouver-native will establish an official Guinness World Record for longest lapsed time between performances by a high school bandleader. It will be almost 75 years to the day since the musician last led the band that he founded, at his Magee graduation in May 1937. A musical tradition and heritage that Richards introduced and which continues to this day at Magee Secondary, Richards will strike up the band once again.
What was your fondest high school memory?
Winning a poetry-writing contest at Magee High School in grade eleven (1936).
Miss Language (I’m not kidding, she taught English).
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I always knew I wanted to be a musician.
What was the biggest highlight of your career?
When my orchestra accompanied Bing Crosby when he brought his radio show cast to Vancouver; the show was broadcast live on NBC Radio from The PNE Forum. It was September 1948.
What was the lowest point of your career?
In 1965 – I’d survived rock and roll, but the Beatles hit the music scene and my big band gig that had been going for 25 wonderful years at The Panorama Roof ended. The only New Year’s Eve gig I could find was at the old Boilermakers’ Hall on Pender Street, and I had to carry all my gear up two flights of back stairs to get there. I sat down half-up the stairs and thought, ‘There’s got to be more than this.” I enrolled in a Hotel Management program at BCIT few months later.
What was your most memorable gig?
It was June 1998. I was playing with a quartet of Moscow University music students on a cruise ship that sailed between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Their English was limited, but they knew all the popular songs of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and Irving Berlin.
As Time Goes By
You have received numerous awards and accolades. Which one is the most special?
Can I have two? The Order of Canada, of course – but also the B.C. Hotels Association Award as top graduate of the Hotel Management Course at BCIT in 1968, 32 years after graduating from Magee in 1938. I was 50.
What is your secret for staying young?
Being blessed with good health, staying active, blowing my horn, leading the band and of course, being married to Muriel.
What keeps you going?
Looking forward to the next gig – and Muriel’s TLC.
Bringing my daughter Dallas, whom I had with my late wife Lorraine McAllister, into the world. She went on to receive a scholarship from UBC for two years at the Sorbonne in Paris.
I’ve led a pretty charmed life thus far. Nothing really comes to mind. However, I’ve never been able to tap dance, in spite of taking lessons.
What does success look like?
A full house and a standing ovation!
Best life lesson you’ve learned?
Do not regret growing old; it is a privilege denied to many.
One lesson you’d love to give others.
I learned this from Ivan Akery, long time manager of the Orpheum, after my first gig there in 1940. He said, “Great show Dal…but you forgot the balcony.” It reminded me to always look beyond the obvious – to expand my vision and experience more than what is right in front of me.
One thing you could change about the world?
Like the old Coke commercial said, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Metaphorically speaking, of course.
One thing you hate most about the world?
The seeming inability of nations unable to accept differences between cultures and to live in peace
One thing you wish Vancouverites would stop whining about?
Three words to live by
Keep On Swinging!
A talent you possess that many are not aware of?
I’m pretty good at tooting my own horn – can’t think of anything.
One thing you can’t live without?
Last $20 to your name, how would you spend it?
I’d be reluctant to spend it at all!
Best place for coffeeAt home on the roof deck, reading the paper.
The Lobby Lounge of the Hotel Vancouver
Bishops for Black Alaska Cod for a really special occasion; Griffins in the Hotel Vancouver for lunch.
Your biggest indulgence?
Ice cream, especially rum & raisin, on a waffle cone and two huge scoops if I’m lucky.
Last book read?
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. I was surprised to learn that she’s a young woman from Victoria; she writes captivatingly about black jazz performers in Nazi Germany. The dialogue in particular is so indicative of the era.
Attending concerts and plays. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concerts are special - the musicians, guests and Maestro Tovey are always top of my list. Bill Millerd’s Arts Club Theatres and Christopher Gaze’s Bard on the Beach – I love them all.
Favourite sports team?
Last place traveled?
Best thing about this city?
It has all the advantages of a big city and the comfort of a small town.
Worst thing about this city?
Your favourite neighborhood?
Downtown – it’s my ‘hood.
What would the perfect day in Vancouver look like for you?
Walking from our home, through Gastown to the new Convention Centre, and stopping to read the historical markers that are displayed around the convention centre walkway. I end up telling Muriel great stories about growing up in Marpole, and coming to town on the Interurban. Stopping on the way back for ice cream – maybe picking up the Sunday New York Times, and coming home to sit on the deck to decide what shows to see on our next trip to New York. Finally, dinner at Seasons in the Park, just Muriel and me, enjoying a great meal and watching the sun go down over the best view of the City within the city.
Community event, festival or gala that you look forward to every year?Playing at the PNE every year –this will be my 74th; performing at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and New Year’s Eve at The River Rock is fun too!
The one place you take out-of-town visitors to show off our city
They’d better stay for a few days, there’s much to see – Stanley Park, Granville Island and UBC.
Who inspires you?
My wife Muriel and my daughter Dallas
Who bugs you?
Telephone sales people
Local person you admire most?
Most overrated person?
Kim Kardashian (isn’t she everybody’s choice?!)
Most memorable celebrity encounter
Gary Cooper – I met him at The Hotel Vancouver when he was staying here promoting a movie he had playing at The Orpheum. I was playing at The Panorama Roof and the Orpheum Theater manager, Ivan Ackery called me and said, “When you’re finished there, come down and join me in Gary Cooper’s room”. I sat there until the wee hours listening to Mr. Cooper’s fabulous stories.
If you could be any celebrity?
George Clooney – what man in his right mind wouldn’t want to be George Clooney for a day?
Artist you’d like to work with?
Update: Tickets are $10 by phoning Magee Secondary at 604-713-8200 between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or at the door. Visa and Mastercard accepted.