The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024

Release:June 10, 2002

UI music faculty member John Rapson wins composition award

John Rapson, head of the jazz area of the University of Iowa School of Music, has won first prize in the large ensembles division of the 2001 Jazz Composers Alliance/Julius Hemphill Composition Awards.

Rapson won for his composition “Riff Bass Bridge Head,” which he has recorded with the UI jazz ensemble Johnson County Landmark on their recent CD “Daydreams from the Prairie.” The prize includes a cash award and performance of the work in the upcoming 2002-03 season of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Orchestra.

Rapson commented: “I am delighted to be recognized by my peers, especially in the spirit of Julius Hemphill, who is still a hero for me. We had the chance to play together once at the Knitting Factory in New York in 1992 and he was larger than life -- both in stature and spirit.”

Now in its 10th year, the Jazz Composers Alliance/Julius Hemphill Composition Awards this year received entries from all over the United States and the world, from as far a Russia and China. Music was sent from 26 states and 13 countries.

In a release announcing the awards, the Jazz Composers Alliance stated, “We are excited and pleased to be able to honor the winning compositions; all were outstanding, inventive works. Judging this music has become more difficult each year. The quality of submissions has been very high, and it's difficult to compare as they represent such a range of approaches, styles, forms and intentions: each year, this event becomes more diverse and competitive.”

Rapson has written of his winning piece: “‘Riff Bass Bridge Head’ was first conceived for an octet that I lead in California. At the time, I was quite taken (and amused) by an unwieldy version of ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ recorded by Anthony Braxton on contrabass clarinet and Muhal Richard Abrahms on piano. It was earnest and cumbersome, enthusiastic and probing, always on the brink of coming apart. So I tried to come up with something that bridged the traditional with the experimental while favoring the lower reaches and employing collective improvisation . . . something that courted danger, that nearly careened into chaos, that narrowly averted disaster.”

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 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.”

Saxophonist and composer Julius Hemphill was a founding member of the Black Artists Group in 1968. He was also a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet in 1975 and played with the group until his death in 1995. He lead other ensembles under his own name, including a sextet and the Harlem Festival Orchestra, and collaborated with choreographer Bill T. Jones on “Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin,” a portion of which was commissioned by Hancher Auditorium, and which was played at the UI on its tour of the United States.

The Jazz Composers Alliance is funded in part by The Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency which also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts; by Mark Of The Unicorn, Inc., and Accurate Records. The annual composition contest has been underwritten since 1997 by Ursula Oppens, a classical pianist who has championed new music, as a memorial to Hemphill’s legacy as a composer, teacher and performer.

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 on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <>.