'It was an honour to play with him': Jazz musicians mourn the loss of great Bobby Hales

The big band leader behind the theme of CBC's The Beachcombers died in mid-October; his memorial service is on Nov. 5.

The big band leader behind the theme of CBC's The Beachcombers died at age 82

Bobby Hales died on Oct. 15 at the age 82; his memorial service will take place on Nov. 5. (Jameziecakes/Flickr)

Vancouver's premiere big band leader Bobby Hales died earlier this month, and musicians are still mourning the loss of the jazz great.

Hales was a cornerstone of CBC's Vancouver programming for nearly three decades, starting in the early 1960s when he became the music director for the local edition of the television program Music Hop. The famed musician died on Oct. 15 at 82 years old.

Bobby Hales was the big band leader behind the theme for CBC's The Beachcombers. (Discogs)

His friend and longtime bandmate Sharman King joined host Margaret Gallagher on CBC's Hot Air.

"I worked for Bob Hales from about 1968 for as long as he played — and it was just laughs and hard music, and a great band for all that time. It was an honour to play with him," said King, who is now a sessional lecturer at UBC's school of music.

Hales grew up in Saskatchewan before eventually moving to Chilliwack, B.C., and taking a job as a banker. He quickly realised it wasn't the life he wanted and decided to pursue his passion for music.

He enrolled in the Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles, a music school that was known for churning out some of the best jazz musicians of the 20th century.

His schoolmates included the great trumpet player Arnie Chycoski and Tijuana Brass leader Herb Alpert.

"He moved back to Vancouver, established himself very quickly as an arranger and composer," said King.

The Beachcombers

Upon his return to B.C., Hales began working regularly for CBC music and television. In 1972, he recorded the composition for The Beachcombers, a dramatic comedy about a B.C. log salvager who toured up and down the province's coast. Each episode opens with Hales's big band track.

"I think we got paid $63 for recording the theme," said King, laughing.

This Beachcombers photo might be in black and white, but we all know Bruno Gerussi's Canadian Tuxedo is true blue. (CBC Still Photo Collection/Fred Phipps)

The show was one of the longest-running Canadian programs ever. King says the theme recording was played so many times over that the tape actually got stretched out, and production staff had to re-record the song.

"It was played all over the world — for $63."

It's now been 44 years since Hales's theme was first heard by a national audience. And much like the comedic program, King says he'll always remember Hales for his humour.

"Bob Hales had a very acerbic sense of humour. He was very brutal and witty, and if you were brutal and witty, he would have called that a medley of his hit," he said.

The memorial service for Bobby Hales is on Nov. 5 at First Memorial Burkeview Chapel in Coquitlam at 1 p.m. PT.

Sharman King was both a bandmate and a dear friend of the late Bobby Hales. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

To listen to the full interview with Sharman King, and hear some of Hales's music, click on the audio below

The Canadian big band leader passed away in October 2016, and his friend and bandmate Sharman King recounts old memories and classic tunes. 54:00

With files from CBC's Hot Air