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Release: Aug. 31, 2001

UI Johnson County Landmark jazz band releases CD recording of music by John Rapson

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Johnson County Landmark (JCL), the jazz repertory big band at the University of Iowa School of Music, has issued "Daydreams from the Prairie," a compact disc recording of music by John Rapson, the group's director and head of the UI jazz program.

The CD, the third by JCL under Rapson's direction, was issued on the Nine Winds label and is available for purchase or on order from local record and music stores. It is the band's first release on a major commercial record label. The previous CDs -- "A Mingus Among Us" and "Been There, Done That" -- were self-produced.

Rapson and JCL have received critical acclaim for their earlier recordings. "A Mingus Among Us" was described as "over 70 minutes of sweet, sophisticated jazz classics" in ICON magazine, and River Cities Reader commented that "JCL, the top big band for the University of Iowa School of Music, captures the power of Mingus' music wonderfully."

Rapson's experimental jazz recording "Dances and Orations" was hailed as "one of the most vital CDs to come around in a long time" in Jazziz magazine and as "a conceptual and musical triumph" by Josef Woodard in the Independent. The CD scored 10 out of 10 for artistic merit in Grammophone magazine's "Good CD Guide" for jazz recordings, which also called it "beautiful and unique."

"Daydreams from the Prairie" includes more than an hour of Rapson's music. The title piece is a suite in three parts, "Tulip Jive Dance," "Book of Ruth" and "Aba Kwa Drive." Other works on the CD are "Riff Bass Bridge Head," "Virile," "Paradox" and "Glide."

In spite of the evocative titles, Rapson has made it clear that his pieces are not written to be descriptive. "All of my compositions are written before a title suggests itself to me," he wrote in the liner notes.

"None of these pieces should be conceived as 'program' music. The music either evokes a similarity, or I choose to honor someone with something that I think they may like. In some cases I am able to recognize the influence that led to my thinking and I've tried to note those where I can."

The liner notes specify some of those influences, including McCoy Tyner for "Virile" and Wayne Shorter for "Paradox." The three-movement title piece was written from a commission by Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. The original work grew into the longer piece that was premiered by JCL in the fall of 1999.

"'Tulip Jive Dance' was written with my 16-year-old daughter in mind, dancing as it does, between innocence and deliberation.

"'The Book of Ruth' has a number of references: a book by Jane Hamilton as well as the one in the Bible, but also in honor of Ruth Crawford Seeger, an unwitting compositional mentor for me. It reminds me of an obscure Benny Maupin record 'Jewel in the Lotus' that must have snuck its way into my psyche.

"'Aba Kwa Drive' refers to a rhythm from a secret men's society in Cuba that is modified and employed in the last section of this movement. Some of the orchestrational ideas came from the Pan African Composers Ensemble that I heard on a Nonesuch album."

A major ensemble in the UI School of Music, Johnson County Landmark (JCL) is a repertory ensemble devoted to the performance of original compositions by jazz masters. JCL has the standard big-band instrumentation, with full sections of reed, brass and rhythm instruments. It is made up largely of students in the UI School of Music majoring in performance or in the jazz area.

In 1998, JCL's performance of Ellington's "Nutcracker" arrangements with dance students was performed to standing-room-only audiences and had to be repeated to meet demand for tickets. The group has collaborated with leading jazz artists, including their concert last year with Carla Bley and Steve Swallow.

The ensemble has been performing at the UI since the 1960s. The group has traveled to jazz festivals in the United States and Europe, picking up awards on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1991 JCL was selected the best band in its class at the 25th annual Wichita Jazz Festival. In 1994, members of the group took top awards in the International Trumpet Guild's Jazz Competition and the Jazz Composition Competition sponsored by California State University at San Diego.

Pianist Alex Lunsqui, who appears on the "Daydreams from the Prairie" CD, was selected outstanding artist at the Wichita Jazz Festival in the Spring of 1999.

Rapson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music as director of jazz studies in August 1993. A recording artist for the Sound Aspects and Nine Winds labels, he is a composer and trombonist whose work mixes ethnic and experimental elements with more conventional jazz forms.

His professional career began in Los Angeles, where he formed an octet and performed with some of the leading jazz artists for both recording dates and live performances. While he continued to record and perform on the jazz circuit, Rapson also taught music theory and composition at Westmont College in Santa Barbara for 10 years. He later taught jazz at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and performed extensively on the east coast.

"Daydreams for the Prairie" was recorded in May of 2000 in Voxman Hall of the UI Voxman Music Building and mixed at the UI Recording Studio.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.