Art & Soul
Honoring Maplewood’s man of the arts
by Susan Dillon
Relaxing under the stars at SummerMusic, or rocking out at MapleWoodstock? Swinging to the tunes of our community big band? Walking through a 1978 Maplewood Art Center exhibit? Bringing the little ones to Music for Kids, or your parents to a seniors dance? If you are enjoying any one of these cultural arts activities in Maplewood, it’s likely to be because of Jim Buchanan.
During his tenure as Cultural Affairs Supervisor of the Maplewood Department of Recreation, Buchanan spearheaded these programs and many more. To celebrate his recent retirement, he received a proclamation for his citizenship and service, and another much-deserved honor: The community room at the Maplewood Community Center at DeHart Park–located in his neighborhood, at a place where he rehearses his community bands and has booked so much music–will now be known as the "Jim Buchanan Room."
As a lifelong Maplewoodian, he grew up on Marion Terrace with his parents, Mary and Bucky, and siblings Howard, Bruce, and Kim. Buchanan raised his 37-year-old daughter, Rebekah, on Lexington Ave. in the home where he and his wife, Carol, still live.
Buchanan is an alumnus of Seth Boyden Elementary and Maplewood Junior High, where he started playing music. At Columbia High he was a member of band and orchestras, and was president of the Jazz Club. He attended Montclair State College, studied music education and played trombone and bass. There he met Carol, now a retired teacher/librarian and president of the Hilton Neighborhood Association.
In 1964, he joined his brother Howard opening Hilton Music Studios on Springfield Avenue, where they rented and sold instruments, taught lessons, and sold sheet music. He left the business in 1976 to get his masters in music, but continued to teach and raise a family. Buchanan conducted Youth Orchestras of Essex County from 1984 to 2004 and taught instrumental music in the Bloomfield and West Caldwell schools until retiring in 1997.
There’s more to add to this musical résumé: Buchanan played with the Army National Guard Band (1967-73), pickup jazz bands and several local orchestras, including the New Jersey Symphony, during that 30-year period.
In 1997 he became more active locally, playing regularly in the New Jazz Trio with local musician friends Ben Williams and John Straus. He created the Performers’ Café at DeHart, an "amateur night" of the highest caliber which ran until 2001. Shortly thereafter, he was approached by Maplewood Recreation Department director Roger Brauchli–another local, who knew Buchanan from Boy Scouts growing up–for the job of Cultural Arts Supervisor.
In this position, Buchanan created the Maplewood SummerMusic concert series, which features everything from top-name jazz groups to a "Maplewood Pops" orchestra of local professionals and amateurs, to MapleWoodstock, an all-day rock concert. Performing each year are the groups of Maplewood Community Music, which he co-founded in February 2003. It consists of several ensembles, and sponsors an instrumental music camp and the "jazz & film" series.
Buchanan also helped maintain and create programs for the Burgdorff Cultural Center, including the ever-popular Music for Kids series, and was instrumental in establishing "1978 Maplewood Art Center" on Springfield Avenue in 2001.
While planning to leave the rec department to spend more time with family–his daughter and her family live in Maryland–and at his country home in Woodstock, NY, last fall Buchanan was diagnosed with leukemia. He hastened his retirement and started treatment at Sloan Kettering. He is presently undergoing chemotherapy, and responding very well. Of course this is a great relief to all who miss seeing him at local concerts or at his booth at the Park Wood Diner.
His attitude about his illness is inspiring: "It’s a new challenge, but also provides new ways to evaluate life, work, and in general take stock of where you are," he says. "I’m fortunate to have received so much support from the community," Buchanan adds. "... playing music, making art, gaining inspiration from the theater, culture, arts." Whether it’s the name on the plaque by his room, or through his continued involvement in the arts, Jim Buchanan will be making his mark here for years to come.
Susan Dillon launched Community Music with Jim four years ago when she asked why we didn’t have a community band in town – and the group was created within a few weeks. A trombonist like her mentor, Susan continues to be astounded by Jim’s ability to get things done in his trademark laid-back way. Only one of his many adoring local fans, she is honored to write this article.
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