Iowa Jazz Connections

The state of Iowa has contributed greatly to the world of jazz, providing a heritage and education to many influential jazz artists of yesterday and today. The strong jazz education programs in Iowa schools are nurturing and producing many new young players, some of whom will surely be seen on these pages in the future. Here are some notable examples of Iowans whose influence is felt throughout the world.


Bix Beiderbecke
Ellyn Rucker
Eddie Barefield
Art & Addison Farmer
Rod Cless
Jack Jenney

Patricia Barber
Al Jarreau
Glenn Miller
Ryan Kisor
Dan Knight

Bix Beiderbecke

To those of us in Iowa the name of Bix Beiderbecke brings to mind the yearly jazz festival on the river in Davenport, or the well-known marathon race in the same city. However, seventy years ago the moniker "Bix" meant only one thing-the jazz cornetist who was a major, but not necessarily well-known figure of the time. Along with young Louis Armstrong, he became a most influential figure. His personality and music were the opposite of the great Armstrong. Where Louis was outgoing and effervescent, Bix was quiet and introspective. Where Louis' music was hot and sharp, Bix's was cooler and more lyrical. Louis played trumpet; Bix, cornet.

Bix had a bell-like sound as he hit each note perfectly with a sure attack. Bix may have been the first "cool" jazzman. His rhythmic sophistication and subtle phrasing gives musical pleasure even through the primitive recording techniques. Critics and historians acknowledge "Singing the Blues" as his finest recorded solo; "I'm Comin' Virginia" is not far behind. Beiderbecke was also fascinated with the classical impressionist music of Claude Debussy. He wrote several tunes for the piano, carefully notated by arranger Bill Challis, since Bix could not write music. His best known would be "In a Mist."

Dorothy Baker's novel "Young Man with the Horn" began Bix Beiderbecke's popular legend, but he was a legendary figure even before that following Otis Ferguson's 1936 essay and reappraisal in The New Republic magazine. The apogee of his career may have been with the ponderous Paul Whiteman orchestra, but it was also his home away from home. Like many of that "bootleg booze" generation, Bix Beiderbecke had a major alcohol problem, it shortened his career. Whiteman carried him for a long time.

Bix always acknowledged his home town of Davenport, but often was at odds with his upper middle-class family. He died too young from the effects of alcohol, much like rock stars do today on drugs. He was 28 in 1931 when he died, penniless and without a horn. He was a legendary figure and has always been associated with Iowa. - Bob Naujoks

Singin' the Blues

Riverboat Shuffle
Bix Beiderbecke, cornet; with Frankie Trumbauer & His Orchestra (Feb. 4, 1927)

In a Mist
Bix Beiderbecke, piano (Sept. 9, 1927)

Clementine (From New Orleans)
Bix Beiderbecke, cornet, with Jean Goldkette & His Orchestra (Sept. 15, 1927)

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Ellyn Rucker

Singer and pianist Ellyn Rucker's great pianistic skills and her sensuous voice belie her late start as a jazz performer. She started playing piano when she was eight; ten years later she was studying classical piano at Drake University. Jazz music was in her life as a teenager, but she did not start performing as a singer-pianist until 1979. In the ensuing time she was an ordinary mother, raising a family, and playing infrequently.

She was born and raised in Des Moines, but calls Denver her musical home. Though she is a fixture in Colorado, and she has made many European tours, played many festivals, and appeared in many clubs across America, her name is not well-known to the general jazz fan. Her bop and Bill Evans influenced piano can stand on its own, and her singing is top rank. Her few recordings show her music to be powerful and appealing. Ellyn Rucker is an underrated jazz musician. If she had taken up performing when she left college or lived on one of the coasts, perhaps Ellyn would have been a really big name in jazz music. - Bob Naujoks

Waltz for Debby
Ellyn Rucker, vocals, piano; Red Mitchell, bass; Marvin "Smitty" Smith, drums (Aug. 1988)

In Your Own Sweet Way
Ellyn Rucker, piano; Pete Christlieb, tenor saxophone; John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums (Sept. 1987)

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Eddie Barefield

Eddie Barefield was born in an obscure place, Scandia, which is not noted on current Iowa maps. His career to us today is also obscure, but in his prime he played with the best. The famous Benny Moten Kansas City Orchestra (the direct predecessor to the Count Basie Orchestra) played Barefield's arrangements regularly. One of his best known is "Toby" from 1932 and was the saxophone soloist on the famous "Moten Swing" recording.

After the Benny Moten band broke up, Barefield worked with Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman and Coleman Hawkins—all top names in the 1930s. In the 1940s he worked in studios and for Broadway shows as a musical director, as well as in the bands of Benny Carter, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. He was the famous Cab Calloway's musical director in the 1950s.

Eddie Barefield lived a long and full musical life, producing fine new albums well into the late 1970s including playing with clarinetist Stan Rubin in the late 80s. As with many jazz artists, Barefield deserved to be better known than he was. He died in 1991 leaving a marvelous, if not well-known legacy. - Bob Naujoks

Eddie Barefield, clarinet, alto sax; with Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra (Dec. 13, 1932)

Minnie the Moocher
Eddie Barefield, clarinet, alto and baritone sax; with Cab Calloway & his Orchestra (Feb. 1, 1927)

Let's Do It
Eddie Barefield, alto sax; with Billie Holiday and Orchestra under the direction of Benny Carter (Mar. 21, 1941)

Georgia on my Mind
Eddie Barefield, alto sax; with Billie Holiday and Orchestra under the direction of Benny Carter (Mar. 21, 1941)

All of Me
Eddie Barefield, alto sax; with Billie Holiday and Orchestra under the direction of Benny Carter (Mar. 21, 1941)

Moten's Swing
Eddie Barefield, clarinet, alto sax; with Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra (Dec. 13, 1932)

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Art Farmer & Addison Farmer

The Farmer twins, Art and Addison, were born in Council Bluffs in 1928. Iowa can claim them as "native sons," even though they were raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and moved to Los Angeles in 1945. They spent a lot of time in the mecca of jazz in the 1950s, New York.

Art Farmer is one of the finest and most individual of the generation of trumpeters who were nurtured in the bop revolution. He never became as famous as Miles Davis or Clifford Brown. They played cooler or hotter than Art. Farmer found his own quiet, lyrical voice at 32 when he made a couple of albums on the Argo label in 1960 and 61. They were, for the most part, intimate conversations with the listener. The second album featured him on the mellower-sounding flugelhorn, an instrument that suited his music. Shortly after his Argo recordings he organized the ultimate lyrical jazz quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Walter Perkins.

Since the late 1960s Art Farmer made Vienna, Austria, his home town, finding it more conducive and less restricting than his native land. However, before his death in 1999 Art Farmer spent more time in the United States. With his old partner tenorist Benny Golson and the Jazztet he made recordings and appeared in concert, playing a "flumpet"—a cross between a trumpet and a flugelhorn. With this hybrid instrument he was still a strong individual voice in jazz.

Addison Farmer free-lanced with the top players of the time—Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Benny Carter. He was with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet in 1959 and 1960. He recorded with saxophonists Gene Ammons and Stan Getz, pianist Mal Waldron and, of course, his brother, too. He was the bassist for the unique pianist-singer Mose Allison and recorded with him also. Addison was not to have a long career like his brother. He died in 1963, a life cut much too short. In an age of good young bass players, Addison was one of the best. - Bob Naujoks

Killer Joe
The Jazztet (Art Farmer, trumpet; Addison Farmer, bass; Benny Golson, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Lez Humphries, drums) (Feb. 1960)

I Love You
Art Farmer, trumpet; Addison Farmer, bass; Benny Golson, tenor sax; Bill Evans, piano; Dave Bailey, drums (Sept. 1958)

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Rod Cless

Clarinettist Rod Cless was born in 1907 in a small out-of-the-way town in southwestern Iowa—Lennox. He had a short and brilliant career, and is largely unknown today except to a few who love the dixieland style.

Cless was a good athlete and played various instruments, finally settling on the clarinet in high school. When the famous Wolverine jazz band from Indiana played a six-week gig at the Riverview Park Ballroom in Des Moines in 1925, Rod Cless was there every night. He was befriended by the great Chicago clarinettist, Frank Teschemacher. Two years later he was in Chicago to start his career.

Some of us are fortunate enought to be at the right place at the right time. Rod Cless was one. He is a part of trumpeter Muggsy Spanier's brilliant late thirties jazz band that made a group of recordings for RCA that are known as "The Great 16." These sixteen tunes are considered one of the great achievements in recorded jazz—high art and high style.

Working with Muggsy Spanier might have been the high point of his recording career. After leaving Spanier, Rod Cless continued to work with the top traditional names in jazz—Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Bobby Hackett and others. However, his divorce and drinking problem tragically caught up with him. He died from a fall while walking home in December 1944. He was 37. He left a very fine legacy of jazz music. - Bob Naujoks

Relaxin' at the Touro
Rod Cless, clarinet; with Muggsy Spanier & His Ragtime Band (Nov. 22, 1939)

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Jack Jenney

The trombone sound of Jack Jenny is a remarkable thing, especially since it was current in the Swing Era where loud big bands ruled. Jack Jenny's reputation and persona rest on several recordings of his his subtle improvisations on the Hoagy Carmichael song, "Stardust."

Jenny was born in Mason City in 1910 and eventually made his way to New York to play with many of the fine orchestras of the 1930s, including those of Isham Jones and vibraphonist Red Norvo. At one point he was a section mate with the great trombonist Jack Teagarden in a New England orchestra.

If one had to characterize Jack Jenny's contribution to jazz music it would be the lyricism and romanticism that he infused in his music. From his improvisations and musical offerings it would be safe to say that Jenny was introspective and desired to project subtlety, a characteristic not totally appreciated in the heyday of Swing music. His finest hour publicly may be in clarinettist Artie Shaw's 1941 recording of "Stardust." The version is still heard today led by the strong trumpet of Billy Butterfield, but Jack Jenny's half chorus fits in nicely after Shaw's solo.

Jack Jenny was never a great star, but offered, rather, a personal vision in his music. After his stint with Artie Shaw in the early forties, Jenny moved to Los Angeles to work in the music studios. He died in 1945 silencing the quiet beauty of his tone and his sweet, subtle melodic variations. - Bob Naujoks

Blues in the Night
vocal by Hot Lips Page (Sep. 2,1941)

Jack Jenney, trombone; with Artie Shaw and his Orchestra (1941)

Jack Jenney, trombone; with Artie Shaw and his Orchestra

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Patricia Barber

Patricia Barber's father played saxophone and worked in clubs around Chicago. He would sit in with his friend Glenn Miller whenever Glenn would bring his band to town. Patricia was fascinated with her father's instrument. "When he played the saxophone around the house, I'd put my hand in the bell to feel the music,'" she recalls. She was only nine when her father died. Soon afterward, her family moved from the Chicago suburbs to Sioux City, Ia.

While a youngster in Sioux City, she began classical piano lessons at home. As she got older, she found an outlet for her jazz roots by playing her father's saxophone in her high school band. She enrolled at the University of Iowa, majoring in classical piano and psychology. After graduating from the U. of I., Patricia found herself leaning more to jazz. She stayed in Iowa City for another year learning jazz from many of the excellent local musicians. When she moved to Chicago, Patricia struggled for a number of years, but finally found steady employment at one of the city's Rush Street venues.

From the Gold Star Sardine Bar, word of her exceptional talent soon spread beyond the confines of the windy city. She played the Hotel Montana in Paris and in 1989 made her debut at the prestigious North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, Holland. That same year she released her first recording "Split" on Floyd Records which featured four of her own songs. That was followed in 1992 by "A Distortion of Love" (Antilles) and two CDs for Chicago's Premonition Records "Café Blue" (1994), and "Modern Cool" (1998).

In 1999 she recorded her first live CD "Companion" from The Green Mill in Chicago where she remains a regular featured attraction. Like "Companion," "Nightclub" (2000), was jointly released through Blue Note/Premonition Records. Her most recent recordings include 2002's "Verse", 2004's "Live: A Fortnight in France" and "Mythologies" from 2006. Neil Tesser, host of "Jazz Forum" on WBEZ, Chicago, and a frequent contributor to "Playboy" wrote the following after witnessing one of Patricia's live performances; "She sounds so comfortable—the keyboard so obviously an extension of her arms—that people have been surprised when she starts to sing. That's when she unveils her dark pure timbre, her heightened sense of human emotion. Like smoked glass, her voice is slightly shrouded yet crystalline, and it gets you immediately —long before you notice the singer's pitch control, or her improvisational ability, or the small wonders of her phrasing."

You Stepped Out of a Dream
Patricia Barber, vocals, piano; Wolfgang Muthspiel, guitar; Marc Johnson, bass; Adam Nussbaum, drums (Nov. 1991)

Inch Worm
Patricia Barber, vocals, piano, organ; Michael Arnopol, bass; John Mclean, guitar; Mark Walker/Eric Montzka, drums (July 1994)

The Beat Goes On
Patricia Barber, vocals, piano, organ; Michael Arnopol, bass; John Mclean, guitar; Mark Walker/Eric Montzka, drums (July 1999)

Let It Rain
Patricia Barber, vocals, piano, organ; Michael Arnopol, bass; John Mclean, guitar; Mark Walker/Eric Montzka, drums (January 1998)

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Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau was not born in Iowa (Milwaukee, WI), but we can lay some claim to him because he has strong Iowa ties—he attended the University of Iowa and got his career start in eastern Iowa by singing in small clubs in Cedar Rapids, the Quad Cities and Iowa City in the mid-1960s.

Al Jarreau's sound and style that would eventually make him a jazz and pop star were almost totally in place when he made his first recording in Davenport in 1965. The Quad Cities studio was owned by two jazz afficianados who also owned a night club in which he sang. Jarreau's influences were the bop musicians of his youth and the great Jon Hendricks of Lamert, Hendricks and Ross, the first great vocalise group. By the end of the 1970s he was hailed in Europe as a major jazz singer.

In the early 1980s he made a career decision and entered the popular market. He became a star there too. Now he is internationally recognized, but is not considered a "jazz" singer now. However, his fans in this state should be pleased to know that Al Jarreau's career was launched in Iowa. - Bob Naujoks

The Masquerade is Over
Al Jarreau, vocals; Cal Bezemer, piano; Gary Allen, bass; Joe Abodeely, drums (1965)

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Glenn Miller

The unique sound of the Glenn Miller Orchestra is still a strong link to the Swing Era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. No band was more popular in its time. It's leader was born in Clarinda, Iowa—a student who flunked out of university music school, but became a top arranger and major music personality.

Glenn Miller played the trombone, but his gift was in arranging and organizing. After working with famous Ben Pollack band (with Benny Goodman) and Ray Noble Orchestra, Miller formed his own band in 1937. It was an unsuccessful first attempt. In 1938 a second band with arranger Bill Finegan's aid, became the most successful Swing band of them all.

Glenn Miller was not only commercially successful, but artistically also. He combined a new sound—clarinet lead above the saxophone section—with a mix of both hot swing and sweet arrangements. Showy effects and movie appearances solidified the popular image. At the height of his career duty to his country called and he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. His job was to boost the morale of the troops. He did that by forming a touring band which contained other great jazz instrumentalists.

Captain Glenn Miller apparently died in a plane crash on a foggy night in the English Channel near the end of the Second World War in 1945. The Miller sound is still around with a touring orchestra bearing his name and countless regional bands that emulate the style. Each year Glenn Miller is still celebrated in Iowa as a native son in with a festival in Clarinda. - Bob Naujoks

In the Mood
The Glenn Miller Orchestra

Tuxedo Junction
The Glenn Miller Orchestra

Moonlight Serenade
The Glenn Miller Orchestra

Chattanooga Choo Choo
The Glenn Miller Orchestra

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Ryan Kisor

Ryan Kisor grew up in a musical environment. He studied with his father, who played in territory bands and was music director at North Sioux City High School. By age 10 Ryan was already playing in a local dance band. He began classical studies at 12 and was playing professionally full time in a dance band at 14. At the same time his interest in jazz was developing, and he soon discovered records by Dexter Gordon and Clifford Brown. In 1988, at the age of 15, Ryan won the Siouxland Youth Symphony Scholarship and was named best Soloist at the Iowa State Jazz Championships. Soon he was playing first Chair Trumpet in both jazz and symphony orchestras in and around Iowa and Nebraska. Later that same year, and again in 1989, he was chosen to be a member of the all-star high school band that performed at the convention of the International Association of Jazz Educators. At a jazz camp in Emporia, Kansas he caught the attention of jazz legend Clark Terry who suggested he enter a new contest. The result was Ryan winning the Thelonious Monk Institute's First Annual Louis Armstrong Competition in a unanimous decision from a panel of judges that included Nat Adderly, Red Rodney, Clark Terry and Snooky Young. That was in November of 1990. In 1991, while still attending North Sioux High, he went to New York and cut his first CD for Columbia Records. "Minor Mutiny," produced by Dr. George Butler, was released in 1992. After graduating from high school, Ryan moved to New York, where he studied with Lew Soloff and played with Mingus Dynasty and The Gil Evans Orchestra. Ryan Kisor has since recorded two additional CDs as a group leader, "On the One," (1993) for Sony/Columbia and "The Usual Suspects" (1998) for Fable/Lightyear Records. Ryan can also be heard on the 1992 Pat Metheny CD "Secret Story," and on the 1996 Bluenote recording "The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band/Music Director Jon Faddis." Most recently, Ryan has been recording and traveling with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. He can be heard on the 1999 Columbia/Sony CD "Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Live in Swing City."

The Distant Past
Ryan Kisor, trumpet; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Lewis Nash, drums; Christian McBride, bass; Chris Potter, alto sax; David Sanchez, tenor sax (1993)

Never Let Me Go
Ryan Kisor, trumpet; Peter Zak, piano; John Webber, bass; Willie Jones III, drums (Jan. 11, 1998)

Harlem Air Shaft
Ryan Kisor, trumpet with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Music Director (Aug. 1998)

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Dan Knight

Jazz is America's Classical Music—its contribution to world culture. And Dan Knight is one of its most capable proponents. A member of the Worldwide Steinway Artist Roster, an honor reserved for a select few of the world's best pianists, Dan is "quietly establishing a place for himself among the masters of jazz piano."

He's earning an international reputation as a warm, engaging person whose personality and musicianship fills concert halls and jazz clubs alike.

He's performed and studied with some of the greatest musicians of this or any time: Wynton Marsalis, Max Roach, and his mentor, the incomparable Dr. Billy Taylor.

By the time he was three years old Danny Knight knew every song on the "Hit Parade", and could sing any melody he heard after hearing it once. He began playing keyboard instruments at age four by singing the melodies he knew and matching the pitches on his older sister's chord organ, which he wasn't permitted to play.

His ability became known to his family when they visited an aunt who owned a piano. His older sister and a cousin had attempted to play the "Dragnet" theme on the piano, with no success. After they gave up, Danny walked to the piano and played the theme. Correctly. His parents went home and bought a piano.

By the time his mother persuaded Mrs. George Maither, a local piano instructor and former student of Paderewski, to take him as a student, his repertoire included television show themes, church hymns, and a two-handed, boogie-woogie version of "Sentimental Journey."

His teacher discovered his interest in jazz after he heard Brubeck's "Take Five" for the first time, when he ran to her house to ask if it was possible to have five counts in a measure. As she lectured him regarding the evils of jazz, he determined to learn to play it on his own.

He transcribed every jazz recording he could find. He swept floors in a second-hand store in exchange for 78 rpm recordings of Art Tatum and Fats Waller.

Steinway Artist Dan Knight has performed with some of the giants of jazz. A protege of Dr. Billy Taylor, he performs internationally as a soloist and with his own trio.
- Jazz Society of Eastern Iowa

C Jam Blues
Dan Knight, piano; Craig Dove, bass; Live at Riverside Theatre, Iowa City, March, 1999.

Bix Suite: In a Mist, Candlelight, Flashes, In the Dark
Dan Knight, piano. Jazz at Riverside: The Piano Music of Bix Beiderbecke. Live at Riverside Theatre, Iowa City, March, 2006.

I Remember Clifford
Dan Knight, piano; Live at Studio III; Iowa Public Television April, 1996.

My Foolish Heart
Dan Knight, Piano; Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, July, 1997

What Is This Thing Called Love
The La Fosse Jazz Trio; Dan Knight, piano; Leopold La Fosse, violin; Gary Palmer, bass; Live at Studio III, Iowa Public Television, April, 1996.

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