Mesa Musings: The day martial music died at OCC

October 05, 2010|Jim Carnett
  • Doc Rutherford
Doc Rutherford (Daily Pilot )

He always referred to me as James, never Jim.

The only person to call me that was my mother. Whenever I was in big trouble, she used "James" in combination with my middle name.

His demeanor was aloof and formal, somewhat unusual for a jazz artist.

He was Charles Rutherford. Known to everyone as "Doc," he taught jazz at Orange Coast College for 31 years. Doc died last month at the age of 85. A concert and memorial at 11 a.m. Saturday in OCC's Robert B. Moore Theatre will honor his legacy. An alumni jazz band composed of Doc's finest students will perform.

A native of Hayden, Colo., Rutherford earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in music at Colorado State University. He also completed a bachelor's in physical education, and was a Colorado State quarterback.

Doc joined OCC's faculty in 1967. He was hired ostensibly to direct the college's acclaimed 100-piece marching band, replacing John Williamson, who went to Foothill College in the Bay Area to head its fledgling music department.


OCC president Robert B. Moore and Fine Arts Dean Paul Cox, who served as marching band director before Williamson, did the hiring. Doc hadn't been on the staff long when he informed Moore that he was giving up the marching band.

Martial music died at OCC that day.

But jazz music began to flourish there. In fact, Doc Rutherford — officially a professor of instrumental music — built OCC's jazz program from scratch into the finest on any community college campus in the nation. He headed up several OCC jazz bands every semester.

Doc retired in 1998, at age 73.

During his tenure, Rutherford established the OCC Jazz Festival, which ran from 1969 through 1986. The fest brought the finest jazz musicians to Costa Mesa, in addition to thousands of high school and college musicians.

President Moore wrote in the 10th anniversary festival program: "It seems only yesterday that Chuck Rutherford, using all his strategies — begging and borrowing — got the OCC Jazz Festival off (to) a shaky start. Fortunately, the students, the college and our community have continued their support through the years."

That's how Doc kept his festival going for 18 years — begging and borrowing, and employing his considerable wiles. He was an absolute maniac for jazz education. But the festival would have died long before it did had it not been for his capable assistant, Virginia Woltz.

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