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Release: Nov. 1, 1999

Johnson County Landmark premieres new suite by director John Rapson

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Re-worked standards, classic ballads and the premiere of a new suite are on the program for Johnson County Landmark, the top big band in the University of Iowa jazz program, when it presents a free concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The concert features three arrangements by veteran jazz composer/arranger Bill Holman and closes with the first performance of the suite "Daydreams from the Prairie," a three-movement work by director John Rapson.

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 Nov. 13 program features three arrangements by Holman, whose career first came to prominence in the '50s with Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson. "Just Friends" comes from "The Bill Holman Band," an album recorded in 1988. The most unusual trait of the piece is a long, tour-de-force "solo" performed in unison by the entire band. "Yesterdays" is a ballad that first appeared in the mid-‘50s on a Kenton album titled "Contemporary Concepts." And "The Peacocks" is a ballad by Jimmy Rowles made famous first by Bill Evans, a legendary figure of jazz piano.

Other standards on the program will be "Pootin’ It," a classic, slow-swing number written by saxophonist Eric Dixon in the Count Basie tradition; "The First Circle," a composition by guitarist Pat Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays that blends a relaxed, contemporary sound with dynamic and tricky rhythms; "All of Me," an old standard from the ‘20s that will be played in a modern arrangement by Thad Jones; and "Black, Brown and Beautiful," a ballad by Oliver Nelson.

Rapson’s "Daydreams from the Prairie" started as a commission by Augustana College and grew into three movements, or daydreams: "Tulip Jive Dance," "The Book of Ruth" and "Aba Kwa Drive."

"Tulip Jive Dance" is a movement that combines different popular rhythms from the Caribbean in a contrapuntal texture -- that is, one of simultaneous melodies, an uncommon device in jazz writing. The title is derived by an image of Rapson’s teenage daughter Clara, nicknamed Tulip.

"The Book of Ruth" has a number of referents: the biblical story, a book of the same title by Jane Hamilton and an improvising strategy by the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. It is an ethereal work that features JCL’s bassist, Wes Phillips.

The final movement, originally the Augustana commission, is an aggressive vehicle for saxophonist Mike Giles. It blends two rhythmic traditions -- "aba kwa" and "bembe" -- from Cuba. The entire work incorporates a large percussion section and requires the saxophone section to double on other instruments such as flute and clarinet in an expansive orchestration.

Johnson County Landmark 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. The group was selected the best band in its class at the 25th annual Wichita Jazz Festival in 1991, and 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.

The group’s most recent recording, "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."

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. Among them, these diverse ensembles range from combos to big bands and differs in stylistic formats from experimental compositions to traditional repertoires.

Rapson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music as director of jazz studies in 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 recent 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 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."

Previous albums under Rapson’s direction are "Bing" for Sound Aspects, and "Buwah" and "Deeba dah bwee" for Nine Winds. He has also recorded "A Mingus Among Us" and "Been There, Done That" with Johnson County Landmark.