The University of Iowa

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John Rapson is a composer and recording artist for Realtown Records, MoMu Records, Music and Arts, Sound Aspects and Nine Winds whose work mixes ethnic and experimental elements with more conventional jazz forms. Jazz historian Mark Gridley characterized his music as "extending several trends that were first demonstrated by Charles Mingus and George Russell."  He has been professor of music at the University of Iowa since 1993, where he has collaborated on projects with Billy Higgins, Anthony Braxton, Kenny Wheeler, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Bennie Wallace, The Either/Orchestra, David Berkman, Richard Stoltzman, Bobby Watson, Peter Apfelbaum, Dave Pietro and Jimmy Greene. His recordings have been recognized in the Gramaphon Guide to Good CDs, The All-Music Guide, Grove’s Dictionary of American Music as well as magazines such as Downbeat and Cadence.


Mr. Rapson has written compositions for a variety of ensembles and recorded 32 albums, fifteen under his direction featuring original compositions.  In 2002, he won first prize in the Julius Hemphill Competition sponsored by the Jazz Composers Alliance for Riff Bass Bridge Head, from the album Daydreams from the Prairie.  He received international response for Dances and Orations with Anthony Braxton and for Water and Blood with Billy Higgins that feature compositions built from improvisations by master musicians.  A third album in the trilogy, Mystery and Manners with Brazilian artists Nene Lima and Vinicius Dorin was released in 2011. Recent albums with Johnson County Landmark featuring his work include The Night Sky and Turquoise Sea (2013) and a soundtrack from Crescendo (2015), a theater production created with Italian mask-maker Matteo Destro. In 2016, he collaborated with Danyel Gaglione to produce a jazz tone poem called Hot Tamale Louie based on the life of Zarif Khan, an immigrant from Afghanistan, which was released as a DVD in the summer of 2017.


In 1995, Mr. Rapson was commissioned by AT&T to compose Sound Luminesce, a jazz suite that united musicians in Iowa and Japan via fibre optic technology in the first ever trans-pacific "live" performance. Rapson has also taught at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California (1980-90) and at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut (1990-93). His concerts and recordings on the west coast include sessions with John Carter, Vinny Golia, Kim Richmond, Bruce Fowler, Clay Jenkins and Alex Cline.  His collaborations while in the east included performances and recordings with Julius Hemphill, David Murray, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, Doc Cheatham, Ed Blackwell, Jay Hoggard, Walter Thompson and Allen Lowe.


Hot Tamale Louie: Telling Stories Without Words


Sometime between chemo and radiation, John Rapson was struck by inspiration in the form of a New Yorker article. The long piece, "Citizen Khan" by Kathryn Schulz, told the story of Zarif Khan, who as a teenager left his home near the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan and eventually settled in the Wyoming town of Sheldon in 1907. According to Schulz, the town of 8,000 had blacksmiths, a bicycle shop, two local newspapers, a clairvoyant, coal miners, and an opera house. With the arrival of Khan, it had a tamale purveyor. Within years of his arrival, Khan was running a small restaurant, Hot Tamale Louie's, which sold legendary hamburgers in addition to tamales.


As Rapson followed "Louie" through his immigrant's journey of earning citizenship only to have it stripped of his "being a member of the yellow race," he recognized a story of immigration that echoes today's political conversation about what it means to be an American and who can stay in the country. Eventually Rapson organized a group of seven musicians whose own interests and specialties range from classical to folk music. He imagined a thirteen-section musical suite evoking different aspects of Khan's life, penned with musician Danyel Gaglione.


This Speakers Bureau topic uses video clips from the 2016 performance of Hot Tamale Louie to explore how music can give unique expression to the narratives that most compel and captivate us.


Why Jazz (and Baseball) Are Boring


This tongue-in-cheek statement represents a wide swath of public opinion that could be similarly made about cricket and Carnatic music: most folks don't know their way into it. This presentation is a playful consideration of how imaginations, desire, and memory participate perception and the nature of making choices instead of judgements.