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Carse Sneddon, 1928-2012

Posted on | October 26, 2012 | 10 Comments

by Guy MacPherson

The sad news of the day is that trumpeter/valve trombonist Carse (Carswell) Sneddon passed away in his sleep at age 84. I can’t say that I knew him well but I did play some “casuals” with him and did some gigs for him when he was contracting. He was a good bandleader and an excellent player and his gigs always paid very well and he was on time with his cheques! He underestimated himself as a Jazz player but when he had the opportunity to play some Jazz there was no doubt. His favourite trumpet player was Roy Eldridge but he played with a more modern bent. I once heard him at a jam session situation at The Cellar (the original club) and it was his turn to solo and he blew everyone away. Check out his playing on Fraser MacPherson’s album Our Blues on the Just A Memory label and you’ll see what I mean. Carse in recent years had moved with his wife to the Maritimes but the memories of his time on the Vancouver music/Jazz scene remain. RIP Carse.

 – Gavin Walker


Sneddon, second from right, with Louis Armstrong

On Sunday, October 21, 2012, Carse Sneddon passed away in his sleep at the age of 84. Sneddon was a first-call trumpet player in Vancouver in its hey-day from the 1950s through the 1980s. His reputation extended across the country, too. In 1959, he was selected along with Chris Gage, Dave Robbins, Lance Harrison and Dave Pepper as the Vancouver representatives in the Canadian All-Star band, a TV special featuring Maynard Ferguson.

On November 18, 1964, Sneddon became the leader of the house band at the Marco Polo, one of the three premiere supper clubs in Vancouver, located on Pender St.

In a March 13, 1965 story in the Province newspaper on the three clubs’ bandleaders – Sneddon, Fraser MacPherson of the Cave, and Bobby Hales of Isy’s – they talked of getting off work at 2 am every night. “And then we usually sit around and gas with the boys for a while before we go home. Every time I arrive at my place, I have to tippy-toe so I won’t wake my wife and daughter,” Carse said.

It was a good life, despite its drawbacks, as he admitted in the story. “You get used to a lot of things. Like not taking vacations, for example.” But perceptions got to him: “Some people say ‘Gee, it must be a bad life, you know, staying out and never seeing your family, and not making much money and like that.’ I almost get to feeling sorry for myself. But I don’t suppose these ones are as bad as the ones who keep telling you what a marvelous life you’re leading, what with all the parties and free booze and girls and the whole bit. They really bug you.”

In a Vancouver Sun story from September 3, 1965, Sneddon added, “Your ability is your security in this business. You have to keep on trying. There are so many expenses, from horns to suits to music, that you don’t really put enough money aside so I expect I’ll still be playing at 55 or 60, though I’ll also have to branch out to something else.”

Sneddon’s solos were fiery. A Sun review singled him out in a Bobby Hales concert, describing his solo as “showy”, but they didn’t mean this in a negative way. Perhaps he developed this style to wake up some of the apathetic crowds he played to over the years.

Sneddon, standing on chair, with his Marco Polo band

In the same Sun story from 1965, he talked about his philosophy of choosing numbers when doing the dance portion of the show at the Marco Polo: “I believe in starting things out with a kind of shocker and take things from there,” he said. “You see, it always used to drive me mad to see the way people didn’t even notice the band during the early dance sets, so I decided to be different and introduce the numbers and have the players sing along in unison. This is also why I use something like that Bill Haley number you heard to liven things up and establish contact with the customers. There are still nights when for no reason at all you get a full house as quiet as pussycats, but as you can see, it usually works.”

Sneddon was originally from Nanaimo, and grew up on the island playing in dance bands there and in the prairies (notably with Jerry Gage’s ensembles) before moving to Vancouver.

“We grew up in the big band era and got our experience in sections,” he said in the Sun story. “Unless a player gets the opportunity to play in a section and learn his instrument properly, it’s not easy to play in a band. As for myself, I got on the road with bands from the beginning; it’s all I have ever done, learning through the school of hard knocks, like Fraser and Stu [Barnett].”

In 1948, Sneddon was in a 17-piece band led by the Gage brothers. Alto saxophonist Jerry Toth told author Mark Miller, in Jazz in Canada: Fourteen Lives (University of Toronto Press, 1982), that Chris Gage was “so far into music that you couldn’t say he was on the ground. Carse Sneddon was just as bad. The two of them used to walk along so engrossed in talking about music that they’d walk through puddles. We used to call them ‘Null and Void’ – but not in any derogatory sense.”

Sneddon, right, at the Cave

Sneddon reflected on those days in a phone interview in 2007 with me from his then-home in St. Albert, Alberta, prior to the release of “Our Blues”, on which he played trumpet and valve trombone in the Fraser MacPherson Quintet from 1962-63 (here’s a track from the album where he plays muted trumpet on Round Midnight). “We got in the paper a lot. Jack Wasserman used to write about us like we were celebrities.”

But all things must come to an end. “We all got along and drank together and played tricks on each other. You never think of tomorrow. Like that old Ellington song (Sophisticated Lady), ‘Drinking, smoking, never thinking of tomorrow, nonchalant.’”

Sneddon is survived by his wife of 25 years, Shirley.

– Guy MacPherson


10 Responses to “Carse Sneddon, 1928-2012”

  1. April Sneddon
    November 5th, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    I was truly blessed to have such a wonderful,talented and kind hearted soul in my life! As his young daughter…he taught me a love for Jazz and The Big Band Sound! Yes…I did tiptoe around his afternoon arising after gigs….a soft shoe shuffle in my teen years. Life with Dad was magical…attended so many of his gigs with Mom and met each and every musician friend…parties were ablaze with song and sound which I will carry with me forever. My respect and admiration for my Dad will never waver…..he was a true genius and I can still remember him practising trumpet and piano with fond memories! Albeit being quiet so he could delve into his thing!Music was his first love….I`m just happy I came second! Carsewell William Gibb Sneddon You Will Be Remembered! XO April Sneddon

  2. Lynne McNeil
    November 13th, 2012 @ 4:49 pm


    I’ve always thought that had my uncle Carse not been a beautiful trumpet player,he’d have made a great movie star or “voice-over” specialist.

    I was nine when I first met him and he was twenty three. He walked through the door of my folks”general store in Cassidy, B.C., and my “little girl self” thought that he was the most gorgeous-looking young man she’d ever seen. Hence…..the “MOVIE STAR” bit. As for the “voice-over” reference…I’ve done a good deal of that kind of work myself, and I’ve rarely heard a more pleasing, resonant speaking voice than Carse’s. (He didn’t sing too shabbily either!!!!). Interestingly enough, the voice that could rival his belongs to his sister, my lovely Auntie Rita. Over the years I spoke frequently with both of them and am amazed that an eighty-four year old man and a ninety-two year old woman could sound like they did. Dulcet-tones up the ying yang!!

    Carse and I worked together for many years with the Dal Richards Orchestra. I don’t quite know how long he was in the band, but I was in it for forty-eight years. Being on stage with the likes of my uncle, Stu Barnett and Cuddles Johnson, was a never to be forgotten experience. Those guys not only played their “collective-butts-off”…. they were also one helluva comedy team. (Something about me seemed to bring that quality out in them very strongly). One night I wore a cool stylishly-up-to-the-minute silver jacket to work. Carse told me I looked like I was going to jump out of an airplane. Then there was the time they all agreed that if I turned my backless evening gown exactly opposite, I’d look about the same. On another night when it was my job to pick spot dancers, they told me my first prize was one night with Stu Barnett and my second prize was TWO nights with Stu Barnett. All those years on the Richards Band was never dull with the three of them around.

    Four years ago Auntie Rita and I went to visit Carse and Shirley at their lovely home in Falmouth, N.S. It was a fabulous trip!! Though we’d spoken on the phone, I hadn’t actually seen Carse in many years. He was older, but just as gorgeous. His voice was identically the same as when I’d first met him when he was twenty three. He could barely see because of the macular-degeneration and his dear hands were badly afflicted with arthritis. Yet still, he played the piano for hours every morning (and did it so amazingly well). He was as funny, charming and easy-going as he’d always been, and I remember being much amused by seeing him wander around the house chomping on a bowl of dry cereal. (I do it too….must be a family thing!!).

    On the day they took us to the airport to return home, I escorted Carse to the rest-room. While walking back arm-in-arm to join the others he told me he loved me very much and I delightedly told him I felt the same. That moment remains one of the great highlights of my life.

    God bless you Uncle Carse and thank you, from all of us for the years of exquisite music you shared with us.

    Your niece and loving friend,
    Lynne McNeil

  3. Agnes Klinghofer
    November 15th, 2012 @ 8:46 am

    A beautiful tribute to your uncle and my cousin! – Agnes

  4. Oliver Gannon
    November 19th, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

    Beautiful words about a beautiful man and musician.
    Carse had amazing facility on the Trumpet (and valve Trombone), he had a fantastic ear, could play any tune in any key and he always made it sound so easy.
    He was very generous to me wnen I arrived in Vancouver in 1969 – not knowing any musicians. He took a liking to my playing and soon I was doing about 3 casuals a week with him, Tony Clitheroe and Billy Boyle. I always loved those causals.
    Carse had an off-the-wall sense of humour. One time on Valentine’s day, they needed a March to usher in the wedding cake and Carse got us to play My Funny Valentine (as a March), As they paraded around with the cake, maybe you ‘had to be there’, but Tony, Bill and I could barely play for laughing.

    Thanks Carse. We really miss you.

  5. Edna Randle
    November 27th, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

    Can anyone identify the pianist in the pic of Fraser, Carse, Jimmy and Chuck?

  6. Edna Randle
    November 27th, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    I should have added that we knew Carse, and his brother, very well going back to the late 40’s.
    The whole music scene was really beautiful and Carse, Chris and Cuddles were a great part of it all. I’m so sorry I saw so little of Carse come the 60’s. He was such a nice friend to have.

  7. Alan Campbell
    January 22nd, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

    Carse was a mentor to me when I played along side him in the Pygmy Band in Nanaimo in the early 40’s. Every time I heard him play, I had shivers up my spine. I remember one night in the Pygmy, Carse wanted to borrow my trumpet. I thought something was wrong with his horn. He grabbed our Derby hats that we used, placed it on his head then went out in front of the band and played Honeysuckle Rose as a duet by himself…playing two trumpets at one time, which blew everybody away! I kept in touch with Carse sending Christmas cards to each other and I would look forward to reading all about what was going on. He was a great musician and friend! RIP Carse
    From Al

    June 27th, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

    Carse work for my father(Isy Walters)and myself
    so many years ago at the Cave, Isy’s super clubs back in the 50’s 60. Carse was a top player and a nice guy.

    when I lived in the west end Carse lived across the st. with his first wife ,she work in the dance group at the cave.


  9. rochelle watters
    December 28th, 2013 @ 11:09 am

    I’ve just seen this and I am his Grand daughter Rochelle Watters I always wished I could meet him. He still lives through his son my father Lorenzo

  10. rochelle watters
    December 28th, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    Sneddon is survived by his Son and two grandaughters Shirly died a long time ago I know this because she is my grandmother!

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