Jazzing for Juniors

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG)  |  Story and Photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner
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Presiding over the jazz festival named in his honor, Carmichael musician Wayne Reimers joins an ovation for Arden Middle School band members. Reimers taught at the school for 28 years. The sax player met fellow musician wife Barbara in an Idaho orchestra reed section.
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CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Wayne Reimers’ vision has become a winter tradition for jazz protegees.  Presented at Rio Americano High School, his namesake jazz festival recently showcased 230 San Juan Unified School District musicians.

Retired teacher Reimers (84) this year took special delight in new performance facilities at Rio. “In past years, we’ve had to use a cafeteria and a little theater,” he recalled. “The distance between the buildings was a problem when it rained. This year, we had three good venues in one performing arts center.  After a cafeteria, hearing a band in a building with acoustical design was music to my ears.”

The 2018 festival featured 12 ensembles from seven schools. “As I listened, I got goosebumps,” said the mentor. “It does the soul good to hear kids playing at such a high level. Their teachers are doing a great job; many of their students play better than some adults I know.”

Kicking off in 1982, the annual festival has been a 36-year opus. Reimers was teaching at Arden Middle School and realized how many local school bands had no showcase for their efforts. A non-competing festival, he decided, would allow students to hear their peers and to blossom via professional critiques. Co-organizer Craig Faniani was then teaching band at Rio Americano; he persuaded his school to host the festival. The rest is musical history.

“All over the world, there are professional musicians who took part in our festival,” marveled Reimers. “They’re gigging in New Orleans, LA, New York. I feel we supported their love for music and gave them early experience of audiences.”

Reimers also started young. Picking up alto-sax at 10, he played all through high school and college; then in the Second Division Army Band during Korean War years. Post-war, he started a teaching degree and a romance.  An Idaho State College band orchestrated Wayne and Barbara Reimers’ love song. “He was the first-alto chair and I was way down the section, struggling,” remembered his bride of 60 years. “We finagled ways to sit together.”

The musicians married after graduation and have been sax partners ever since. They also bolster a big band sponsored by Carmichael Kiwanis Club.  The non-profit has co-sponsored Reimers’ festival almost from the first note. “Dr Les Chase was Assistant Superintendent for San Juan District,” explained Reimers. “He told me his Kiwanis club wanted to sponsor something artistic. I grabbed at the offer -- it was a match made in heaven.”

Through donations from Kiwanians and supporters, the event annually rewards chosen performers with scholarships.  “It’s also the only festival I know that offers free instrument repairs,” boasted the founder.  “I once took a school band to Luxembourg and a sax player dropped his horn on a stone floor. He was in tears. An unplayable instrument can be a disaster.” During 36 years of festivals, Carmichael-based Tim’s Music Store has offered off-stage repairs. “There’s usually a few emergencies,” said Reimers. “The kids are always overjoyed when they don’t have to sit out.”

Octogenarian Reimers—a 50-year member of Carmichael Presbyterian Church – vows to run his festival for as long as the Lord gives him breath. “For 30 years, it was the San Juan/Carmichael Kiwanis Jazz Festival,” he said. “Six years ago, our committee decided to re-name it after me.”

The musician accepted the honor gracefully.  “It was a real compliment,” he considered.  “I’m especially grateful they didn’t have to re-name the festival posthumously.”

The Wayne Reimers Jazz Festival is scheduled for January 2019. For information, visit www.carmichaelkiwanis.org