Last week's column was written and ready for submission to The Chronicle for printing when a newspaper with a little more "clout" did a feature on jazz in the Seattle area.
But my column wasn't about that general topic as much as it was about Centralia's Kenneth Kimball and his part in seeing to it that we, locally, deserved music as much as a metropolis.
Ken, or Kenneth, or, most frequently, Kenny came to Centralia shortly after completing his compulsory military service (which had provided his education) in 1955.
He never left.
His reputation as a pianist capable of providing accompanying service (sometimes on short notice) often took him up to Seattle. One of those artists he played for was Eartha Kitt, remembered by many as having a couple of big hits in her time of stardom such as "C'est si bon" and "Santa Baby."
Another performer he accompanied was one of my all-time favorites, Shari Lewis. Her ability to have you believe the "dummy" she held on her knee was an actual living being faded and stopped completely when illness forced her to retire, but not before she won a dozen Emmys and a Peabody award. And Kenny was there on the stage with them and many others before he had to drive back to quiet Centralia for the remainder of the night.
I don't think anyone ever heard him bragging about such adventures, either.
I, among others, had the opportunity to sit in his classroom while he discussed so many aspects of music, in all styles and sizes. I don't remember any actual tests or quizzes, but I do recall that we were once required to arrange a song of our own choice for the orchestra to play. I forget what song I chose and only remember that I provided some rhythmic assistance with a newly-acquired banjo and that, at the conclusion of the performance, one player summed up my attempt by saying, "Sounds like Guy Lombardo."
That was not meant as a compliment.
Toward the end of my last class, before graduation, we were asked to write an original song for the college choir to sing. I attempted to provide melody to Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The quarter, and my college career, ended before that one could be performed.
I've often wondered since then how it might have sounded.
In the time it took to get my own graduation tassel, I never met a student who had anything negative to say about Kenny. As a remembrance of him, the student body provided (and planted) what we used to call a "monkey puzzle tree.” It stands at the corner of Washington Avenue and Pear Street on the campus and grows bigger and lusher every year.
Kenneth passed away 20 years ago on March 12. His wife is still bright, but like many of us of "advancing age," is more limited in attending all the music events she once was able to. She has always been such a delight to discuss music with, not surprisingly. Ken and Audrey's three children, Julie, Christopher and Janet, are all community college graduates and all are (surprise) musical.
To sum up what I've been trying to put across in these two columns — it can be condensed into one sentence — I never met anyone who didn't like Kenny. I'll put myself in the upper portion of that list. He was a man equal to the musical legends that the Pacific Northwest shared with the world.
P.S. Spring is here! I know it because I heard frogs croaking last weekend. They were probably those tiny tree frogs that start out the season each year, and the main chorus is due to begin any day now, if the larger chorus hasn't already begun to clear their throats by the time you read this.
Life is good!
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.