Photo by Michael Penn
by Laura Haywood
Ron Maas, who died October 5, 2020, at the age of nearly 93, has been a mainstay of the Juneau music scene ever since he arrived in Juneau in 1960. Ron was a special person to Juneau Jazz & Classics, thanks to his enthusiastic sponsorship of so many of our jazz events. Ron also collaborated with JJ&C to create our annual Swing in the New Year party featuring his own Thunder Mountain Big Band.
Ron was a co-founder of the Juneau Symphony and it was in the symphony that Ron, who played trumpet, met his beloved wife, Kathy, a violinist.
The first JJ&C collaboration that Ron sponsored was in May 2000, when he brought Bruce Paulson’s L.A. Big Band to Juneau to play behind Linda Rosenthal’s violin in the premiere of Glacier Blue, Concerto for Violin and Big Band, by Evan Solot. That event launched a durable and rewarding partnership between Ron and JJ&C. Over the years, thanks to Ron’s generosity and enthusiasm, JJ&C was able to bring many other distinguished jazz artists to the Festival, including the Bob Mintzer Quartet (2002), Roger Neumann and the Headliners (2005), Matt Wilson’s Arts and Crafts band (2006), vocalist Lannie Garrett (2008), Jeff Antoniuk & the Jazz Update (2010), and trumpet player Ingrid Jensen (2010).
Ron was the founder and driving force behind the popular Thunder Mountain Big Band (TMBB); his vibrant trumpet solos were a highly recognizable component of the TMBB sound. TMBB was a successor to previous big bands in Juneau; one way that Ron made TMBB his own was by building a practice space, affectionately known as Big Blue, for the exclusive use of the big band. Big Blue was later replaced by a second smaller space next door, Little Blue, which is still used by the band, known today as the Juneau Big Band.
For about a decade, Ron and the entire Maas family sponsored Swing in the New Year, an annual benefit for JJ&C that featured Ron’s TMBB. The first couple of years, the event was an uncharacteristically elegant (for Juneau) soiree held at the Baranof Hotel. Ron again brought in trumpeter Ingrid Jensen to spice up the brass section, as well as Ingrid’s husband, drummer and Petersburg native Jon Wikan.
The New Year’s Eve party eventually outgrew the Baranof and moved to the JACC. The most recent edition was held on New Year’s Eve 2019, and Ron, despite his fragile health at 92, made a most welcome appearance. He held court at the family table, sipping his favorite Scotch and telling stories with that booming laugh of his, as old friends took turns stopping by to visit with him.
Ron’s generosity was legendary. In addition to JJ&C, Ron and Kathy have supported several of the other music organizations in town, including the Juneau Symphony and Juneau Alaska Music Matters. They were named Community Champions for the Juneau Community Foundation’s Arts Vibrancy Endowment.
Ron liked to help his friends in many ways, sometimes anonymously. According to Galen Tromble, who played trumpet with the Juneau Symphony as well as TMBB, Ron became concerned at Galen’s lack of a tuxedo for performances. One day, Galen got a call from the local formal-wear shop, asking him to stop by to have his measurements taken. Within a few days, Galen was the proud owner of a new tuxedo, and it was a while before he figured out the identity of his anonymous benefactor – it was Ron, of course.
Ron’s death is a tremendous loss for Juneau, but we are so grateful for all he has contributed to JJ&C and music in Juneau over the years. We send our love and condolences to his wife, Kathy, and their children and grandchildren.