Four years ago, the owner of the Old Log Theater put together a musical group of "Minnesota All-Stars," noting, "We have one who is 95 and plays guitar and he plays beautifully."
That guitar player, Jimmy Robb, was actually only 91 at the time. Otherwise, Old Log founder Don Stolz was right. It didn't matter whether Robb was playing guitar or banjo with the WCCO staff orchestra that was broadcast coast to coast by CBS in the mid-1930s, leading his own orchestra, or playing in one of five bands at the age of 91.
James A. Robb Jr., who died last week just six days shy of his 95th birthday, always played beautifully, his son, Peter Robb, said.
Born in Calgary, Alberta, and schooled briefly in Switzerland before his family moved to Minneapolis, Jimmy Robb seemed comfortable playing music anywhere on the planet. The West High School and University of Minnesota graduate received a national award for his 50 years as a general agent for Mutual of Omaha. But it was with the big bands that he made it big.
During Robb's sophomore year in college, he met piano player Art Goldberg. They played together for a while before Goldberg decided "that Minneapolis offers no future for us." Goldberg "sold" his band to Robb, who renamed it the Jimmy Robb Orchestra. And Goldberg moved to Hollywood, changed his name to Arthur Morton and collaborated on scores for the movies "Chinatown," "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "Mutiny on the Bounty," Robb wrote in his memoir.
That memoir, "Robb III," got its title from a Swiss teacher who chose to number Robb and his three siblings, rather than learn their names. The book was written by Robb when he was 88, his son said. Then again, Robb didn't learn to play classical piano until he was 75, his son said.
"He always looked for new adventures," Peter Robb said. "He had a very young attitude. He had a positive outlook. He looked for the best in everyone.
"He played by ear. He did things his way."
Robb, who lived in Edina, is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. His wife, Betty, died in 1987.
A service will be held at 1 p.m. today at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, at 46th Street and Colfax Avenue S., in Minneapolis.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419