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Release: March 9, 2001

Innovative jazz artists will be Ida Beam visitors March 20-25

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Carla Bley, recognized for more than 30 years as an innovative jazz composer and pianist, and Steve Swallow, her longtime musical partner who is known as a trailblazing electric bass player, will be Ida Beam visiting faculty members at the University of Iowa School of Music March 20-25.

Bley and Swallow will present a series of free public discussions and demonstrations, culminating in two free concerts:

-- with Johnson County Landmark jazz band at 8 p.m. Friday, March 23 in Clapp Recital Hall, featuring music from the critically acclaimed recording "Carla Bley Big Band Goes to Church"; and

-- with UI jazz faculty at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 24 in Clapp Recital Hall, featuring music from Swallow's recordings "Deconstructed" and "Always Pack Your Uniform on Top," along with music from Bley's recent CD "4x4" and new compositions not yet released in recordings.

Other public events during their visit to the UI campus will be:

-- 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21 in Room 1027 of the Voxman Music Building: "Why Do We Write Like This?" a discussion of their compositional approaches with David Nelson, director of the UI Division of Performing Arts and the class "Literature, Science and the Arts," including recordings of their music;

-- 3:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22 in Voxman Hall of the Voxman Music Building, an open rehearsal with Johnson County Landmark jazz band;

-- 9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22 at the Sanctuary Restaurant in downtown Iowa City, an appearance as guests of the UI jazz faculty; and

-- 1 p.m. Saturday, March 24 in Clapp Recital Hall: "Any Questions?", an open discussion with moderator John Rapson, director of the UI jazz program, topics to include jazz composers/band leaders, the current state of jazz and any other questions the audience might have.

An extraordinarily versatile musician, Bley has performed in a variety of jazz styles and settings. Her written compositions range from big-band jazz charts to chamber music that straddles the divide between jazz and contemporary concert music, to solo piano pieces for classical pianist Ursula Oppens, to the fusion opera "Escalator Over the Hill." Her music has been performed by pianist Keith Jarrett, vibes virtuoso Gary Burton, bassist Charlie Haden, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, and countless jazz musicians around the world.

Born in Oakland, Calif., Bley grew up in a conservative religious environment, playing piano and organ in church from the age of four. She became interested in jazz as a teenager and eventually moved on to the jazz scene of 1960s New York. Active with the free-minded Jazz Composers' Orchestra in the late '60s, Bley founded the boutique record label Watt in 1973 with trumpeter/composer Michael Mantler. Since then she has made more than 20 recordings on the Watt label, ranging from solo piano and jazz duets to big band and chamber music, and including the recent CD recording with the Carla Bley big band, "4 x 4."

Swallow began music studies on piano and trumpet, turning to the acoustic bass at the age of 14. He says his "otherwise miserable adolescence was brightened by the discovery of jazz." He studied composition at Yale, where he also played Dixieland with Pee Wee Russell and other great musicians. In the 1960s he performed with the Art Farmer Quartet, the Stan Getz Quartet and Gary Burton, with whom he maintained an association for 20 years.

In 1970 he switched from acoustic to electric bass. In between a teaching engagement at the Berklee College of Music and a National Endowment for the Arts grant he performed with Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Bob Moses and others. He joined the Carla Bley Band in 1978 and has since then performed and recorded with Bley extensively, in various contexts.

Rapson commented on the unusual careers of Bley and Swallow: "Carla and Steve have been at the forefront of every new development in this music since the 1960s. I think that Carla's big band has established itself, over the last decade, as a trailblazing ensemble with a sense of humor. With luminaries such as Lew Soloff, Gary Valente and Andy Sheppard now mainstays in her band, she's developing the type of legacy that one associates with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus -- highly idiomatic compositions built around master improvisers.

"Steve has played with everyone, and his small ensembles get five stars every time they release an album. One of my favorite 'desert-island' CDs is the trio recording 'Fusion and Thesis' that he made with Paul Bley and Jimmy Guiffre back in 1961.

"The jazz students and faculty alike, are anticipating this visit with something that resembles glee."

Rapson said that both students and faculty are excited at the prospect of performing with such creative musicians. "One of the highlights will be the material from the album 'Carla Goes to Church,' on the JCL concert Friday night," he said.

"This album is a kind of symphony in the heritage of Ives as much as it is jazz. Carla dips into 19th-century hymnody, black gospel grooves, Handel's 'Messiah,' Copland-esque evocations and contemporary Christian pop, all in an improvisatory context. Carla is at the top of her form as both composer and bandleader in this music.

"It is exciting to be making music with someone who has such a great sense of wit and craftsmanship right at the time it's being created."

A major ensemble in the UI School of Music jazz program, 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. 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.

JCL tours throughout the Midwest. In addition to its free concerts on the UI campus, JCL makes frequent appearances at clubs in Iowa City. It is one of 11 ensembles in the jazz program of the UI School of Music.

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 experimental jazz recording "Dances and Orations" has been 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."

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. He worked with some of the leading jazz artists on the West Coast, including Bobby Bradford, Vinny Golia, Tim Berne and Bill Frisell.

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. He performed extensively on the east coast, including recording sessions with Anthony Braxton, Doc Cheatham, David Murray and Julius Hemphill.

Bley's and Swallow's activities at the UI are supported by the Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program, which brings outstanding scholars to the UI campus for residencies ranging from a few days to an entire academic year. A native of Vinton, Iowa, Beam willed her farm to the UI in 1977. Proceeds from the sale of the farm were used to establish the visiting professorships program in her name. Since 1977, hundreds of eminent scholars and scientists have visited the UI campus to give public lectures and to meet with students and faculty.

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

Information on Carla Bley and Steve Swallow can be found at several sites on the world wide web, including <http://www.ejn.it/mus/c_bley.htm>, <http://www.ejn.it/mus/swallow.htm> and <http://www.tedkurland.com/roster_new/>. For a sample of Bley's witty approach to her work, go to <http://www.wattxtrawatt.com/>.

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>.