Bill Fetsch, jazz drummer and radio personality, died March 5
Bill Fetsch, who went by the stage name Dr. Jazz playing in the jazz band he led and as a radio show host on KMHD, died Monday evening, March 5, after battling cancer for the past year.
Fetsch enjoyed an immense following with the band he played in, Dr. Jazz and the Interns, and for the music they played, known as Dixieland jazz or traditional jazz, music performed by American bands in the years before and after World War I. He was also well known for his two hour radio program featured on the jazz and blues oriented radio station that broadcasts out of Gresham.
In an interview recorded in 2005, the station manager of KMHD, Calvin Walker said of Fetsch, 'As he is a musician, there is a different passion when he plays the music on his program, he understands the music.'
Fetsch's passion for music, especially American jazz, began as a young boy staying at his grandparent's house in Spokane. His uncle, 'Duke,' was singing in the city's night clubs with a group that included 'Bing' Crosby at a time before the famed singer and actor went on to find fame in Hollywood.
Fetsch liked to tell the story that his parents, who both shared a love of music, played a recording of By By Blackbird so often in the first two years of his life that one day, while his mother was giving young Bill a bath, he stood up and burst out in song singing By By Blackbird in its entirety.
Living in Portland with his parents, Fetsch attended Central Catholic High School.
The young teenage Fetsch began collecting records and singing with the school's band, but after one too many high jinks, said Fetsch in relating his life story in a 2005 interview, he was assigned to playing a snare drum rather than singing with the glee club.
By the 1950s Fetsch had settled down a bit and was singing regularly in church choirs, glee clubs and barber shop quartets. He also bought a used drum set with money he earned working at his father's business selling printer's supplies and equipment.
The business soon was sending him to cities in other parts of the country and whenever he could, Fetsch went to jazz clubs and concerts. Many times he was asked to sit in and play with the band.
He continued in the printer supply business until he retired and then played part-time with jazz bands. In the early 1990s he volunteered to be a disc jockey at KMHD one of the few jazz stations left on the West Coast.
In 1997 Fetsch got together with fellow musicians that had come to play Dixieland jazz in a regular evening jam session at a Milwaukie restaurant weekends. He and Blake Maddox, Ken Oschsner, Jerry Heermans and Barry Benson started Dr. Jazz and the Interns and they often featured Ethel Smith singing as Nurse Ethel. Later the band added Larry Burnett and Hank Dougherty.
Bill played a washboard hung around his neck and provided the comedic patter between songs. The band played up to 25 venues a year, including regular twice-a-year dates in King City at the KCCA Town Hall. The room was always standing room only to hear the band play.
It was after retirement from his business that got him more into jazz music than ever before, and he said, he was egged on by his wife to get up and do something.
'I feared that even though this is a lot of hard work,' Fetsch said in 2005, 'if I didn't have (music) I could easily have become a reclusive.'
He said that he performs the music to bring somethingof it to people's life as best as he can.
'I want to bring happiness to those that are sad. I don't want people to give up. I'm a lucky man, I feel living everyday has been a bonus.'
A funeral mass has been schedule at St. Mary Magdalene Church, 3123 N.E. 24th in Portland at noon, March 14.
Westside Swing, a group that meets to dance to jazz music from before the 1950s, is booking the Puddin River jazz band for Saturday, March 17 at the Tigard Grange in honor of Bill "Dr. Jazz" Fetsch.
Admission is free for Dixieland Society members of Portland, Salem, Medford, and Eugene. Paid submission is $12 for adults and $10 for students and Westside Swing Members. Dancing begins at 8:30 p.m. at the Tigard Grange Hall, 13770 S.W. Pacific Highway, Tigard.