Posted on | October 26, 2012 | 8 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
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.
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 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