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VOL. 129 | NO. 157 | Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Musical Tribute

Jazz Foundation, professor honor Charles Ives with CD

By Don Wade

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Jack T. Cooper was born a few years after American modernist composer Charles Ives died, but this did not the stop them from connecting – even before Cooper was born.

Jack Cooper reviews musical arrangements in the basement of the music building at the University of Memphis, where he is associate professor and director of jazz and studio music.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Cooper, 51, and an associate professor and the director of jazz and studio music at the University of Memphis, was born in Los Angeles to a mother who was a professional keyboardist and a father who was an amateur saxophone and clarinet player.

Music, like art, was a love Cooper’s parents shared. They had a collection of almost 8,000 classical and jazz recordings and hundreds of books. Musicians often came to the Cooper home to rehearse and give recitals. One of these was vocal soloist Bob Voris, who also would be Cooper’s godfather.

Voris and Cooper’s mother, Georgie, recorded an LP featuring composers ranging from Handel to Mozart. And Charles Ives. Georgie would play Ives tunes on the piano as she and Voris rehearsed.

“I was listening to Ives while my mother was pregnant with me,” Cooper said.

Ives’ music would be a part of Cooper’s life for years to come and now Cooper, in collaboration with the Mid-South Jazz Foundation, has completed a fundraising campaign for the recording, mastering, duplication and distribution of a jazz CD called “MISTS – The Music of Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra.”

The music was adapted and arranged by Cooper and is being released through the Planet Arts label, a nonprofit organization, as part of a series of recordings called “Documentation of American Music Initiative.”

Cooper not only arranged and orchestrated the music, but he conducted a 17-piece jazz orchestra. The CD features eight tracks of jazz adapted from Ives’ American classical music composition. The recording of the eight tracks took just one day.

“He had it down to a science,” said Jack Shaffer, program director for the Mid-South Jazz Foundation.

But first, there was the business of raising the necessary money. More than $18,000 was raised through a crowdfunding initiative, the largest known funding effort for a music CD in Memphis, Shaffer said. Using the host site Indiegogo, the money was raised in only 25 days.

“I’m very thankful that there are people who support the arts here in Memphis,” Cooper said.

Cooper also received $10,000 through the Aaron Copland Fund for Music in New York. As one of the conditions of receiving that grant money, he had to use New York musicians and make the recording in New York.

The CD project’s roots do go back to Cooper’s mother, whom he says “had a special place in her heart for Ives.”

But so did Jack Cooper. As a boy he listened to Charlie Rutlege and got a kick out of the story – Charlie’s horse falls on him, essentially giving him a ride to heaven.

Years later at the University of Texas in Austin to do a doctorate in music composition, Cooper turned Ives’ songs into a dissertation. All along, whether Cooper knew it or not, he was building toward the making of this CD.

“What Jack has done is incredible,” Shaffer said. “We’re going to submit this to the Grammys and see if they will consider it for one of their categories.”

In a recent New York Review of Books, Jeremy Denk examines in detail Stephen Budiansky’s biography of Ives, “Mad Music: Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel.” Denk begins by describing Ives as the “crazy and brilliant patriarch of American music.”

Later, Denk notes that Ives, who was born in Danbury, Conn., was the son of bandmaster, and “grew up in a world of music that has now become not just historical but quaint – marches, hymns, sentimental ballads, ragtime. This unlikely and motley collection of genres and styles became his source material; he was destined to be its modernist archivist.”

And Cooper was destined to keep Ives’ music alive. The idea for the CD really started to take hold as Cooper was doing the dissertation and researching Ives, including making a trip to Yale University to look at Ives’ notes, which in some cases were really just crude scribbling that later, to quote Denk, inspired him “recreate the messiness of human experience.”

Cooper, then, was heartened to hear an Ives expert at Yale describe his work with the CD this way: “You’re kind of taking Ives a step further; Ives would have loved this.”

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