Ridgefield is the only place in the United States, other than Washington D.C., that can boast of having a military band play at least once a year for 50 years.
And to whom can residents attribute this honor?
To Ridgefield musician Jack Herr, who started the tradition back in 1967 when he moved to Ridgefield and began to manage and own several NAPA auto parts stores.
With a mother who gave piano lessons, Herr always loved music. He loved reed instruments, especially the clarinet.
“I played in every type of band possible during junior high school, high school, college and after college,” said Herr. “I just loved to play music, especially Dixieland, but I never considered music for a profession.”
“In fact, after graduating from Ohio State in plant and nursery management, I decided to go into the Army and become a helicopter pilot,” he said. “But while waiting for my helicopter training assignment, the Army discovered that I played multiple instruments and said we need you for the Army band.”
He told The Press that his parents were thrilled about the offer as it allowed their son to make use of his education and musical talents, and keep him in the United States.
“I would also be playing with the 72-member 101 Airborne Division Band, a very famous Army band at the time,” he said. “I was also happy as it would take me off the farm and away from milking cows.”
Herr played with the prestigious Airborne Band for two-and-a-half years, traveling throughout the United States.
Along the way he developed fast friendships with band members, many who would go on to play with well-known symphony orchestras. He would also get the opportunity to play solo numbers all over the country and even conduct the West Point and Coast Guard bands.
After settling in Ridgefield and becoming active in the American Legion in town, Herr decided to use his connections to bring just about every band the military organizes to come to town for free concerts two or three times a year.
Getting the bands to Ridgefield, and all the organization it entails, is not easy.
But Herr finds it very rewarding when he sees the crowds and the joy that it has brought to the people of the town over the years.
“Every military band that comes to Ridgefield loves the reaction they get from the crowd,” he said when asked about how he sells the town to military musicians. “The people are always so receptive and outwardly show their love of the music.
“The band also likes a high level of organization and seeing that everything they need is in place,” Herr said. “Thirdly, the bands like a nice reception for them afterwards to celebrate their success, and this always happens in Ridgefield.”
Ridgefield owes so much to Herr for all of his volunteerism for the past half century, but Herr said he cannot do it alone.
He thanked George Besse, from the American Legion; selectwoman Barbara Manners; and the two new men that will take over after him, Chuck Trado and John Willie.
Today, Herr only plays his reed instruments for pleasure.
He also uses his plant and nursery degree skills in his own garden.
His love of European cars and years in the auto parts business has taken him to many countries and has also kept him going as a car consultant.
With the 50th anniversary concert set for Saturday, July 1, at 7 p.m., Herr encourages everyone to come to the Veteran’s Park field for an outstanding outdoor concert featuring the Army Field Band and the Soldier’s Chorus.
Handicapped parking and assistance will be available. Bring a lawn chair. If it rains, the concert will be held at Ridgefield High School.
A decision will be made Friday. Check www.theridgefieldpress.com for an announcement.
The performance Saturday isn’t the only grand show Herr is organizing this year.
On Oct. 24, the President’s United States Marine Band will be playing for the public at Ridgefield High School.
This event will also be part of the celebration of 50 years of collaboration between Ridgefield and various military bands.
Herr is proud of the fact that he was able to play for President Truman and bring joy to so many people over the years.
He is also proud that due to his organizational skills and connections, the military bands choose to come to Ridgefield over other places.
Being able to bring military music to some very small towns, including the distinguished United States Army Band — also known as Pershing’s Own — to Ridgefield three times, has also brought him satisfaction.
“Seeing tears come to the eyes of listeners from time to time makes it all worthwhile,” commented Herr.