Wes Hird grew up in a musical family in Pleasanton and enlisted in the military in 1951 where he found himself on patrol guarding airplanes at a base in Florida. I heard that story on a summer afternoon about a decade ago when I went to Wes’s house for an interview. He told me about that pivotal day so long ago. While on guard duty, he heard the base’s jazz band practicing and eventually asked if he could sit in.
One thing led to another and he finally joined the band — and spent the rest of his professional life playing jazz on his beloved guitar and bass and singing. He worked with big bands throughout the country and performed on CBS radio in the 1950s. When he finally settled down in Kearney, Wes worked in musical retail.
Wes’s daughter Betsy Hird Warren made this video to get a glimpse into Wes’s life and to hear his mellow voice.
Wes became the essential piano tuner and story teller. When he tuned your piano it became an afternoon of stories about growing up with his musical family, his musical career in Armed Forces band, Jazz on the radio, his musical compatriots in Kearney.He said I’ve been trying to figure it out for 60 or 70 years. I’ve been trying to figure out what constitutes jazz and why. It’s kind of baffling. It’s a feeling more than anything else.
Thoughts about Wes from Rick Brown
I suppose Wes could be described as old school when it comes to his music. He once told me that musicians today often neglect to learn the standard songs. They gravitate toward the new sounds and skip over the fundamentals that form a solid foundation for an understanding of music. Wes learned about music from a stack of Benny Goodman records and a wind-up Victrola.
Thoughts about Wes from Greg Tesdall
Having just moved to Kearney in 1983 I heard Wes from Kearney call the Larry King National Talk show. Larry’s guest was the well-known jazz musician and composer Don Goldie. Don was thrilled and recognized Wes as one of the great jazz string bass players in Florida. I finally had a chance to meet and then play with Wes over the years. I’ve learned so much about jazz from Wes from his playing and educational stories. His guitar improv soloing and smooth vocals always grabs your attention He is one of Kearney’s best and most treasured musicians. The real deal.
Thoughts about Wes from Terry Sinnard
Put simply, Wes is an icon. I started playing shows with Wes back in perhaps the late 1970s, early 1980s when I was playing with the Jim Kaiser Band out of Hastings, NE. Jim had a fun little group and he decided to concentrate more on playing Country songs than the traditional swing and jazz tunes we had been playing. That’s when he asked Wes to come sit in with us. It was amazing. Wes seemed to know every song, and if he didn’t know one, he did after the first time through a couple of verses and a chorus.
It was such a joy to have him sit in with us and believe me, the stories are endless. After I moved over here to Kearney, our paths crossed again and he asked me to play with various groups at the infamous Concerts In the Park at Harmon Park, or at fundraisers for MONA. We started The Wizards, a small band focusing on the old standard jazz and swing tunes. What a time that was. As the years went on, Wes was so kind to ask me to play on several of his faculty concerts at UNK, and for various shows with featured female singers, like Kate Fly, of the OK Sisters and Vickie Nielsen, from St Paul. Each concert gave the listener a feel for the breadth of musical talent Wes has and his love for it all.
There are so many stories, but here is a theme Wes and I had going one year. We were playing some duo shows and larger shows with the Wizards, and every time we played, it rained. We got known as the Rainmakers. It was a bit scary. We were playing a show for the Museum of Nebraska Art auction fundraiser in a large tent that was set up in the parking lot of MONA. Of course, it started to rain. What we had failed to realize was that we were set up in the gutter of the parking lot where everything was designed to channel the water right at our equipment and feet. We bailed out of that one and so did everyone else. We were soaked but like always had a great laugh out of it.
Wes still commands the best of what music is being in the moment and providing whatever someone wants to hear. We just needed one of us to kind of remember the tune and off we would go. Listening to his beautiful instrumental versions of Autumn Leaves, Misty and so many others, would literally stop any listener, be they a musician or not, and pull them into the magic of his chords and melody lines. And then he would sing. And that would pretty much do it. His talent is just so special and we are lucky and blessed to have him share his gifts with all of us.
Wes’s daughter Betsy Hird Warren created this video to glimpse into Wes’s life and to hear his mellow voice.