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Jim Ritter

Enough has been said and written about how the Buck Creek Jazz Band had its beginnings in the basement of Fred and Anna Wahler, to the extent that it need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that the band has been eternally grateful for the support received from the Wahlers.

    No, this story is about a lady whose life defines the term “jazz fan.”

    Anna has been interested in music most of her life. She was co-leader and piano player for a small dance band called the Ickle Mickle Pickle Factory in 1932. (The BCJB politely declined to resurrect this name when they got started.) This innate interest began to flower in 1955, when she and Fred decided to attend Mardi Gras to hear, first hand, what they had only been able to hear on records, and thus began a 15-year tradition of visiting New Orleans on an annual basis. They got to know and develop friendships with many of the musicians playing there in those years.

    Back home they discovered this music being played in Washington at the Charles Hotel, and it was at this time that they began the habit, which lasted until Fred’s health would no longer allow it, of going out at their every chance to hear live traditional jazz. They termed it “supporting their kind of music.”

    In the 1960s they attended almost all of the weekly performances of Bill Whelan’s band at the Bayou in Georgetown, and when the New Black Eagle Jazz Band got started in the early ‘70s, they made monthly drives to the Stickey Wicket in Massachusetts. It was in the mid ‘70s that they began driving to Wilmington, DE, one Sunday each month to hear Tex Wyndham’s Red Lion Jazz Band. They spent every Friday night at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Rockville, MD, listening to the Southern Comfort Jazz Band. All of this while they were visiting the Bratwurst in Arlington, VA, every night to hear various groups trying out their respective jazz talents. Every night, that is, except one, which they referred to as a “health night.” We never did find out what they did, or didn’t do, on health night.)

    When Al Webber, et al, gave birth to the Potomac River Jazz Band in 1971, Fred and Anna joined right away, becoming members #15 and #16. They went on to serve as president, vice-president, membership chairman, head of special events, and Fred ran the annual PRJC picnic for four years running. In 1977 Fred decided to have a band of his own, so he…. (wait, that’s another story!) They were real sparkplugs that helped make the club so successful in its formative years. They were always the first ones to greet new faces and make them feel welcome.

    It was also during this time that they began attending national jazz festivals, starting with the St. Louis Ragtime Festival and the Sacramento Jubilee. Back on Buck Creek Road, they regularly opened their house to visiting musicians, often hosting parties in their basement for out-of-town bands. This fabled basement also became home for enough recordings, photographs and artifacts to fill a small museum, which, I suppose, it already is.

    Anna is known for many “Annaisms,” to wit, “Isn’t that right, Fred!” which was not a question, but in fact a call for agreement from her husband. Perhaps she is best know for the acronym STAD, which, in polite circles is short for “Shucks, that ain’t Dixieland!” and often serves as her primary commentary as a jazz critic.

    And she is now receiving awards for doing “what comes naturally” for her. Last fall, during the West River Jazz Festival, Chesapeake Cultural Arts, Inc., bestowed one of their annual awards on Anna, given each year to people who have fostered and nourished jazz musicians and jazz programs.

    The title for this recording goes back to our first national appearance in 1980 at the St. Louis Ragtime Festival. On our last night there we brought out a sign which purported to give us the true name of the band; it read “Anna’s Boys.” Although it was done in fun, it really came from a deep feeling of affection for the band’s “Mama.”

    You see, our band is named for the street on which she lives, and we’re proud to be known as “Anna’s Boys!”

Jim Ritter, December 1998

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