Edmonton jazz musician Bobby Cairns dies from COVID-19

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Edmonton jazz musician Bobby Cairns died at the age of 78 on Saturday from COVID-19, his family confirmed.

Cairns began his career at the age of 15 as a professional guitarist for renowned Edmonton jazz pianist and former senator Tommy Banks.

He represented Canada at jazz festivals around the world and was chair of the guitar program at Grant MacEwan College for 38 years, retiring in 2008.

Cairns' eldest son Jay Cairns says both his parents contracted COVID-19 on Nov. 9 and were taken to the hospital two days later.

Submitted by Jay Cairns
Submitted by Jay Cairns

"We just were absolutely astonished at how the disease grabbed them and it was just quicksand, the deterioration was very rapid, especially for my dad," Cairns said. "It was shocking."

Cairns says the family doesn't know where his parents contracted the virus. As his parents were immunocompromised, they were very careful, he said.

He described his father as a quiet, gentle and humble person. "He was just such a talented man and has such a love for the music and for guitar and just putting some words together," he said.

Bobby Cairns and Banks owned and operated a studio that produced a number of jingles that were popular in the 1970s. They did the music for the Tommy Banks Show. Cairns played on Banks' Juno-winning Jazz Canada Montreux 1978 album.

Cairns and his father also wrote a jingle for "Speaker Corner A-Channel" in the early 2000s, he said.

"They asked for something urban but Alberta. So he played one track with an electric guitar and another on banjo," he recalled. "He was something else."

His father loved music, he said.

"My dad just lived and breathed it and he walked around with his guitar all the time. He was always practising and honing his craft."

Charlie Austin, retired music professor at MacEwan University, remembers Cairns for his dry wit.

"When he's making something obvious — well to me for example — he had a way of putting things, that made you laugh first of all because it's so clever, but also instructive," Austin said.

"He was truly a great guy in every respect. And he will be really missed."

Austin said as a teacher he gave students a sense of self esteem.

"He was very open to teaching people and believing in the kids, that sort of thing, so he is very popular as a teacher and as a guy," he said.

Another colleague, Raymond Baril, remembers Cairns as a pragmatist.

"The world of post-secondary education can quickly focus on educational theory, policy and philosophy," Baril said. "He didn't get caught up in ideology. He focused on practical solutions."

Baril says Cairns was always "nervous and apologetic" about his lack of formal post-secondary education, "yet he was the most knowledgeable and, in many ways, the most educationally sound," he said.

His son echoed the suggestion.

"There was never a question that he didn't know [the answer] immediately. There was never, 'I'll have to get back to you on that' or whatever," Cairns said. "His knowledge was just so extensive."

His father's death has been a blow to the family, while his mother continues to struggle in ICU.

"If we lose her in the next couple of days, that's going to be a real sad story, to be orphaned in two weeks," he said.

A small, private funeral was held Monday.