RHINELANDER, Wis. (WFRV) – It’s not often you see a big band take up a big chunk of the dining space in a Northwoods supper club, but once a year, at Holiday Acres resort near Rhinelander the joints a jumpin’.
“The fact that I’m in the Northwoods and I can just look out and see this beautiful environment at this incredible lodge that has all of this jazz history,” said Santa Barbara, California’s Kimberly Ford.
Ford is a highly sought after jazz singer and recording artist. She is also co-director of the Northwoods Jazz Camp, a music camp for adults with a passion for jazz. Ford teaches vocalists who attend the camp the techniques and nuances involved in the art of jazz singing.
“I’m in charge of vocal program,” she said.
But Ford wasn’t always a member of the faculty.
“I came first year as student,” Ford recalled.
Ford’s not the first student of jazz to travel across the country to our own Northwoods to attend this camp. She’s also not the first, even among locals, to discover the deep history of jazz nestled in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
“This jazz tradition here at Holiday Acres, which is in a very rural part of the world, is deep,” she explained. “It goes very deep.”
Ford was new to the camp that first year, but well versed, not only in jazz, but also all Wisconsin’s Northwoods has to offer.
“I have a cabin very close in Hayward., Wis.,” she said.
Ford’s partner, world renowned jazz recording artist and composer, Kim Richmond has been directing the Northwoods Jazz Camp for nearly a quarter century.
“I think this is year 23,” Richmond said.
But the jazz history at Holiday Acres goes back much further than that.
“It was kind of a stopping place between Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago,” Richmond explained.
Richmond, also from California with a cabin in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, says he stumbled upon the jazz scene at Holiday Acres four decades ago during a summer hiatus from his job as a studio musician in Los Angeles.
“I said ‘Somebody has jazz out here? Who?’” Richmond recalled.
That ‘who’ was Jim Zambon, then owner of Holiday Acres resort on Lake Thompson near Rhinelander.
“He was a big jazz fan,” Richmond explained.
The extent of Zambon’s love of jazz adorns the walls at Holiday Acres to this day. Photographs, autographs and memorabilia from the 60s and 70s of the biggest names to ever play, topping off right for a gig at Holiday Acres.
“He had the Count Basie band, he had Woody Herman, I saw both of those. He had Buddy Rich,” Richmond remembered.
In fact, a photo of Richmond himself graces the walls at Holdiay Acres, playing sax alongside the greats during his first full summer in Wisconsin’s Northwoods back in the 1980s.
“I came in 1984,” Richmond recalled. “That was the first time I took the entire summer away from work in L.A.,”
Coming from L.A., the slower pace of life in northern Wisconsin left Richmond looking for a way to fill his time and share his passion for jazz.
“One of the things I would do was volunteer for the local radio station which is WXPR in Rhinelander,” he said.
Richmond knew jazz, but the world of broadcasting was a whole new score.
“I went in not knowing anything about radio or broadcasting,” Richmond recalled. “The programming director asked ‘What are you doing Sunday?’ I said ‘Nothing,’ she said, ‘Well you’re on the air.’ I said ‘What?!” Richmond chuckled. “She said, ‘Yeah, it’s a jazz show and it’s from 4pm to 10pm.’”
So, Richmond did what he does best. He improvised.
“That was my baptism by fire, but I got through it,” Richmond said. “I’ve been volunteering ever since. In fact, I’ll be on this Sunday.”
The show was a big hit, even gaining a local sponsor.
“Holiday Acres was the sponsor of the Sunday jazz program on WXPR,” Richmond connected the dots.
And that’s one connection which led to the Northwoods Jazz Camp more than four decades later.
There is more to this story, however, than the connection between Richmond his radio show’s sponsor. It has a little something to do with the resort owner’s daughter, Chris Zambon who caught the eye of this L.A. jazz player transplanted in the Northwoods.
For more on that, tune in to Local 5 News Sunday, April 16 at 10pm for part three in our series Northwoods Jazz Camp: Rhapsody, Rhythm and Roots.