Every year the Clark County Fair is filled with familiar sights and sounds. The Harbor Patrol Jazz Band is an enduring entertainment fixture at the fair, as the ensemble gets ready to play its 20th year. You can hear the Harbor Patrol Jazz Band performing at 1, 2, 3, 4:15 and 5:20 p.m. today, Sunday and Aug. 14-16, near the East and West ends, in the Exhibition Hall lobby and in front of the South Hall buildings.
The band is led by John Reitz, a trumpet player and band leader. It specializes in Dixieland jazz, which draws on the sounds of New Orleans in the early 1900s. “It’s very rhythmic, very melodic,” Reitz said. Traditional jazz is more about creativity and improvisation. The band’s name was inspired by the Navy shore patrol, “who kept the Navy guys from screwing up. We made music all over the harbor,” he said, with the band often playing on the four or five sternwheelers docked in Portland.
The Harbor Patrol Jazz Band features Bob Turbush of Vancouver, who plays the trombone and washboard, banjo player Dave Johnson of Portland, tuba player Bill Stauffer of St. Helens, Ore., Reitz and Jim Buchmann, a clarinet and saxophone player who lives in Vancouver.
“Musicians like Jim, they are very few and far between, not many players have this guy’s qualifications,” said Reitz. Buchmann began playing for the band four years ago, after retiring from his job playing at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in the German Pavilion. Buchmann has performed on international stages and large jazz festivals with Toronto’s Climax Jazz Band, Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Jazz Band and the Original Black Dogs.
“He can play all of these various traditional, or Dixieland, songs in a way that you rarely hear, with fabulous technique,” said Reitz. Reitz recalled how a group of local high school jazz students once followed the band to three different sessions, just to watch Buchmann play. “It’s a pleasure for us (to perform with him), as everything he plays is right.”
Reitz lived in Vancouver’s Fairway Village for 28 years before moving to Arizona.
“I started playing the trumpet in the third grade,” said the 91-year-old, participating in the grade school orchestra. Reitz admired the clarinet playing of Benny Goodman, along with the trumpet styles of Ziggy Elman and Harry James. That turned into a life of playing music professionally.
“The only time I wasn’t involved in jazz and playing music was when I was walking across Europe with the Army,” said Reitz. He served with the 66th Army Infantry Division during World War II. After earning his bachelor’s degree in music at Lewis and Clark College, and a master’s in music at University of Washington, he founded the Johnny Reitz Orchestra. “It was one of the busiest bands in Portland,” he said. The swing band toured across the country, performing until Reitz retired the band in 1983. “I could see that the music trends were largely gone to rock ‘n’ roll.” Reitz was also becoming more interested in playing jazz without written music.
“It takes a different type of skill. You’re playing by ear on music selections that you’re familiar with, familiar with the melodies and with the chord progressions.”
While some of the songs may be familiar, none of the daily concerts will be the same.
“It’s extemporaneous,” said Reitz. “There’s a list of about 40 tunes that goes on a card in my coat pocket,” he said, everything else is created on the spot.
“There’s no limit to the things that can come out of our heads.”
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