On the eve of their 42nd anniversary, the inevitable has happened. This week, High Sierra Jazz Band, Three Rivers’s longest running and most loved and well-known band, announced they are retiring after Jazzaffair 2019. This means effective after the traditional finale, as Earl McKee sings “Till We Meet Again,” High Sierra Jazz Band will cease to exist.
In a statement released by Pieter Meijers, the band’s leader for the past two decades, and Norma Baldwin, the HSJB’s manager since 2016, the retirement is not because the band can no longer deliver its signature sound and playing.
“Even though the band sounds as good as ever, we have decided to disband while we still perform at our peak,” they wrote. “It is clear that advancing age and associated aches and pains are making it more difficult to continue the hectic pace of travel to and from festivals, concerts, and cruises.”
And what a hectic pace it has been. These jazz ambassadors have single-handedly put Three Rivers on the world map. Three of the members — Earl McKee, Charlie Castro, and Bruce Huddleston — are charter members of the band that actually started in 1970 as Jazzberry Jam Band before reorganizing as HSJB in 1976.
“The High Sierra Jazz Band had quite a run these 42 years,” the press release states. “Not only have we been regulars at all the traditional jazz festivals in the U.S. and Canada, we enjoyed multiple tours to Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and had the pleasure of performing on numerous jazz cruises around the world.”
High Sierra Jazz Band consistently remains one of the most sought-after bands on the jazz festival circuit. In the next seven months, there will be several opportunities to see High Sierra Jazz Band perform before the stage lights are turned off for good on Sunday, April 14, 2019, at the 46th annual Jazzaffair.
“High Sierra started at Jazzaffair, and we decided that is where we should end,” said Norma Baldwin, manager.
Sierra Traditional Jazz Club, which formed more than 40 years ago to support and host the hometown band, will reportedly change its name to Three Rivers Jazz Club. It is under discussion what direction the club will take after High Sierra is no more.
Currently, Earl McKee is not hoisting his tuba during performances anymore. At Earl’s recommendation, the band has hired Paul Hagglund of Seattle to take Earl’s place at the remaining festivals, although when Earl is in attendance, he will still contribute his one-of-a-kind, heartfelt vocals.
“This has been a hard decision for all the band members,” concluded Norma. “But the feeling is that High Sierra is the back line: Earl, Charlie, Stan [Huddleston], and Bruce. We did not want to see the band change or deteriorate.”
(Three Rivers events in bold)
Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 25-28:
Pismo Beach Jazz Jubillee
Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 1-4:
Arizona Classic Jazz Festival
Friday-Sunday, Nov. 16-18:
Suncoast (Fla.) Jazz Festival
Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 21-25:
San Diego Jazz Fest
Saturday, Dec. 8:
Sierra Traditional Jazz Club
Christmas Party (Three Rivers)
Sunday, Dec. 30-Sunday, Jan. 6:
New Year’s Cruise,
Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 7-10:
Fresno Mardi Gras
Friday-Sunday, March 1-3:
Jazz Bash by the Bay (Monterey)
Saturday, March 9:
Sierra Traditional Jazz Club
St. Patrick’s Day (Three Rivers)
Thursday-Sunday, April 11-14:
JAZZAFFAIR – Farewell Fest