RHINELANDER, Wis. (WFRV) – Kim Richmond was a studio musician in L.A. when he first stepped foot into Holiday Acres Resort near Rhinelander nearly 40 years ago.
“I came in 1984,” he recalled.
Richmond was spending the summer at his family cabin in nearby Three Lakes, Wisconsin, and thanked the resort owner for sponsoring his weekly jazz show at the local radio station where he volunteered.
“I walked in and said, “I’d just like to thank you for sponsoring the jazz show I do at WXPR.’” Richmond said.
Richmond had heard the resort hosted some big-name jazz musicians, but resort owner Jim Zambon hadn’t heard of Richmond and wasn’t buying his story about being a jazz musician himself.
“He asked me where I was from and what I did,” Richmond remembered. “I told him I was from Los Angeles and played sax, mainly jazz.”
After Richmond had left, Zambon’s daughter, Chris, asked her dad, “Who was that guy? He has shoes we don’t have around here.”
Zambon chuckled, “He said he was some jazz player from L.A., yeah, likely story.”
It was Chris Zambon who convinced her dad Richmond was legit.
“She said, ‘He is! I heard him on the radio, and he played,’ “Richmond recalled, explaining that he’d bring his sax in occasionally and play live on-air.”
While Zambon deeply loved jazz, the feeling didn’t initially extend to Richmond.
“He was a pretty stern guy,” Richmond said. “He always made me feel like he didn’t like me.”
Perhaps, for what some might call a good reason.
“I was taking his daughter away,” said Richmond.
Married for 43 years, Kim Richmond and Chris Zambon make their home in Hollywood, California these days, but return to the Northwoods often to spend time at their cabin in Three Lakes, visit Chris’s family at Holiday Acres, and host the Northwoods Jazz Camp; which started long before Richmond joined the picture.
“Jim Zambon hired someone to do a camp before I came along,” Richmond clarified. “Dave Remington. He was a trumpet player out of Chicago.”
Like the old Rock-n-Roll Fantasy camps, but for jazz, the Northwoods Jazz Camp was a concept where adult, amateur musicians could learn and play along with the top professionals in the field.
At first, the concept was a bit confusing to some.
“One of the campers asked, ‘What’s will all this music? I don’t understand the music,’” Richmond related the story. “‘It’s a music camp. We teach music,’ the staff explained. ‘Oh!’ the woman said,’ I thought this was a fantasy camp where you take off your clothes?” Richmond chuckled.
The initial attempt fizzled out.
“I think it lasted five or six years but then faded out,” Richmond said. “That was back in the 90s.”
Eventually, Richmond picked up the baton and has been directing the Northwoods Jazz Camp for nearly a quarter of a century.
“I think this is year 23,” he said.
Shortly after Richmond revitalized the camp, United Church of Christ pastor and jazz fan Gail Irwin was surfing the web. He ran across an intriguing opportunity not too far from her home in Oconto Falls.
“I found it online,” Irwin recalled. “I just emailed Kim Richmond, and he said I could come.”
Irwin’s been coming every year since. For the past 14 years, this clergy member by day has become a jazz singer by night…under the tutelage of one of the greatest jazz vocalists on the scene today.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Santa Barbara’s Kimberly Ford, the Northwoods Jazz Camp co-director and vocal instructor. “I’m so passionate about what I do and love to teach. So if I can help them experience some of the joy that I experience, then it makes it worthwhile.”