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New scholarship helps WIU jazz students and honors radio legend

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Rich Egger
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The Post 6 Big Band in action at the American Legion in Macomb.

Some music performance students at Western Illinois University record their recitals at the university's COFAC Recital Hall. They use those recordings when they apply to schools for their masters or doctoral degrees, or when they're auditioning for a band.

John Cooper, professor of Jazz Studies at WIU, said the new Jeff Holtz Jazz Recording Scholarship will help Jazz Studies students cover recording costs. He said jazz recitals require a lot of equipment, which means the cost can rise quickly.

“We want the scholarship to be able to support students in perpetuity so that we can remember Jeff (and) the work that he did here spreading jazz to the Macomb community, the tri states community really,” he said.

Cooper also conducts the Post 6 Big Band, which has raised money for the endowed scholarship at its local shows. The band’s next concert will be from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., Wednesday, December 15, at the Macomb American Legion Post 6, 221 East Washington St. The show will include Christmas music and other selections.

Liz Swigart, Development Director for WIU’s College of Fine Arts and Communication, said there are options for donating to the scholarship:

  • You can visit this site 
  • You can text WIUMUSIC21 to 71777. You will receive a text message that takes you to the giving page
  • You can send a check with the reference note “Jeff Holtz” to WIU, Liz Swigart - Development Director, 114 Browne Hall, 1 University Circle, Macomb IL 61455
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Jeff Holtz

Holtz was not a musician. But his passion for music -- and jazz in particular -- clearly came through in his radio shows.

He was also a regular presence at the Post 6 Big Band concerts. Cooper said Holtz is missed. 

“You start to think about how big a loss that’s going to be and some ways that we can help remember the work that (he) did to make our community richer,” he said.

Cooper said the scholarship will help do that.

Tri States Public Radio talked to the first two recipients of the scholarship to learn about them.

Yoseph Henry

Henry is a senior in Jazz Studies. His primary instrument is his voice. 

Henry said he only knew gospel music growing up on the south side of Chicago. His father taught him how to sing and he grew up singing in the church choir with his siblings. 

“Music has always been a huge part of my life.”

Henry said he fell in love with jazz when he was a high school student watching the documentary That’s Black Entertainment. He said at the end of the film Sarah Vaughn performs Perdido.

“I had never heard jazz before, and I said, ‘Whoa! What is that? I’ve got to hear some more of that!’”

Henry said he went to his local record store – this was in the late 1990s – bought a live Sarah Vaughn album, and was hooked.

“Keep in mind this is a love affair that has grown and developed from high school through my service in the military. I finally decided that I would pursue my passion for jazz after spending years working in healthcare, home health, things like that. And I said, ‘Why not take a chance and study this music that I love so much?’”

Henry said he served six years in the Marine Corps, including two tours in Iraq, and he was also activated for humanitarian service work after Hurricane Katrina.

Henry came to WIU in 2018, unable to “read a lick of music” but accustomed to tweaking his sound through his many years of singing.

He’s close to wrapping up his undergraduate studies and plans to work on a masters, then a doctorate. Eventually he would like to teach college age singers. But first things first -- he has done his junior recital, and now he’s focused on his senior recital.

Henry said it was a challenge to pay for his junior recital.

“Having (the Jeff Holtz Jazz Recording Scholarship) going forward will allow me to be able to not worry about how the recordings are going to be funded, and really focus more energy on the production side of the project.”

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Credit Rich Egger
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Austin Dunaway (left) and Yoseph Henry

Austin Dunaway

Dunaway is working on his master’s degree in Jazz Studies. His primary instrument is the trumpet.

Dunaway said when he was in high school, his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. His father was the family’s sole provider but had to stop working to get treatment, which put his family in dire straits financially. 

“It’s through scholarships like this and others that we offer that let people like me be able to come to school and hang with the big dogs, so to speak,” he said.

“It lets me focus on the music and not the money.”

Dunaway said he did not know Holtz well, but recalls seeing him at Post 6 concerts and occasionally at rehearsals.

“We played the State Street Suite, his theme song, for him. He was grinning ear-to-ear.”

Dunaway said he got involved with music in fifth grade. He said a music class had a bunch of instruments on a table. He tried the clarinet and decided that wasn’t for him. The same with the tuba.

Then he picked up the trumpet.

“And made a pretty loud noise out of it and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m sure this will piss off a lot of people around me,” he said with a laugh. “It’s like, we’ll pick this.”

He said he quickly moved on from trying to irritate family and friends to falling in love with the artistic side of playing.

Dunaway will finish his master’s in jazz studies in the spring. He is now applying to doctoral programs, and those applications carry fees.

“Which is another reason why I’m pretty glad for the recital recording fees scholarship. It allowed me to put some extra dough into the application fees.”

Dunaway ultimately hopes to teach or play with a touring big band. He said his true loves are playing the horn and teaching. The Jeff Holtz Jazz Recording Scholarship will help him continue pursuing those passions.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.