An obituary on composer and jazz musician, Robert (Bob) A. Diebold, who died recently.
Robert (Bob) A. Diebold – musician, composer, teacher, writer, journalist, July 17, 1924 – December 29, 2013
Bob Diebold was just a young Midwestern teen in 1930s Illinois when he played his first gig on alto sax, after a dozen lessons, with ‘The Stardusters’, for which he was paid the princely sum of five bucks. He was soon sitting in with a swing band in nearby Rockford, then moved with his family to Michigan, where he played sax with the South Haven High School dance band, and string bass in the high school orchestra, before finishing high school and being drafted into the US Army Air Corps.
In 1943, aged 20, he traveled to Europe by ship, dogged by a Nazi submarine, and was stationed in Thurleigh, near Bedford, with the 306th Heavy Bombardment Group. Between October 1944 and April 1945 he completed 24 missions over Germany in a B17 Flying Fortress as radio operator. After war in Europe ended, he waited to find out if he would be sent to the Pacific, and played tenor sax with an off-duty dance band called the Esquires, helping to put a show together for Victory in Europe celebrations with a small band with Bob on organ and eight guys performing skits. Their two-hour variety show saw Bob heading up a five-person combo that toured in a C47 aircraft as far as the south of France and Algeria. They only disbanded when they were shipped off to Geiblestadt in Germany as part of Operation Casey Jones, the mission to photograph post-War Europe by air.
Bob spent the first while back in post-war US gigging with trumpet player Marty Johnson, before forming a quintet with George Klett, with Bob on alto sax, George on tenor, Gerald Paquin on trumpet, Bruce Thornton on bass and Eddie Pratt on guitar, regularly playing clubs.
He joined the South Haven Daily Tribune in 1951, the start of a 35-year career in journalism during which he would work with the Register Republic in Rockford, Illinois (where he interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt), the Los Angeles Times (where he interviewed Martin Luther King) and the Evening Press in Dublin (where he penned a popular jazz column throughout the 1980s).
In the early 1960s, he joined the American Federation of Musicians and played piano several nights a week at the King of Clubs in the Jack Brand Quartet with Johnny Porrazzo, who’d played with jazz fiddler Joe Venute and Bob Carter from the Benny Goodman Band. The highlight of those years was a one-night stand-in on piano with the great Satchmo himself – Louis Armstrong.
Bob arrived with family to Ireland in the early 1970s and wrote freelance for the LA Times before working as a sub editor with RTE, then the Evening Press. But it wasn’t until the newspaper lock-outs of the 1980s that he played again, gigging three to four times a week, his reputation among Dublin musicians quickly growing as he began arranging for various bands and going on to play the world famous Cork Jazz Festival with bebop group Jazzology, then Dixieland band Jazz Odyssey, both headed up by singer Bob Hyland (Whelan), before also accompanying well-known songstress Ann Bushnell.
He played with increasing frequency throughout the 1980s, with some great Irish players that populated a popular city jazz scene, among them saxophonist Dick Buckley and Rory McGuinness; ace drummer Johnny Wadham, guitarist Tommy Halferty, bassist Dave Flemming and the notorious Dara O’Lochnan. He spent a season at the old Coliemore Hotel with singer Liza Hingerty as ‘Liza and the Lighthouse Trio’ and played with the East Coast Jazz Band, gigging Sundays almost constantly.
In 1989 Bob retired from the Press and taught piano in a small school on North Great George’s Street for some years, before breaking out on his own as a private piano teacher, travelling to hundreds of students all over the county, then eventually coaching dedicated young adults from his home in Dalkey, right up until 2012 when some of his serious health issues began to get the better of him. A number of Bob’s compositions from these latter years , largely written as teaching tools, are archived with the Contemporary Music Centre. Bob died peacefully at Blackrock Hospice on December 29.