A look at the life of respected UMSL jazz educator Jim Widner
Jim Widner had a passion for music from early on, but his road to jazz took a more circuitous route.
“I grew up in Lebanon, Mo., which wasn’t exactly the jazz mecca of the world,” he said in a recent segment of “Living St. Louis,” a program on KETC (Channel 9). Widner is a renowned bassist and director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
Raised by a single mom, she couldn’t afford the instrument rental fee for him to join the school band, however, members of the orchestra received instruments free of charge. So he joined the orchestra in the eighth grade.
“They started me out on cello, which probably wasn’t a real wise decision. I wasn’t that good on it,” he said on “Living in St. Louis.” “We had a change of directors, and he saw that maybe I’d make a good bass player. And once I started bass the love affair started.”
He became smitten with the genre when he saw the high school jazz band perform.
“They started out playing that thumping theme from ‘Peter Gunn’ and that was it, and I said next year I’m going to be in that jazz band and I was,” he said.
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Widner attended the University of Missouri–Columbia on scholarship and earned his bachelor’s degree. He holds a master’s degree from Memphis State University and has done postgraduate work at the University of North Texas in Denton.
Widner is a former member of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He has performed at the world famous Lionel Hampton and Montreaux Jazz Festivals. His performance background includes concert dates with Clark Terry, Buddy DeFranco, Mulgrew Miller, Louis Bellson, Randy Brecker, Bill Watrous, Marilyn Maye and an appearance before former President Bill Clinton. Widner also serves as guest conductor for numerous All-State Jazz Bands. In 1999, students at the University of Missouri–Columbia, renamed the music wing of the fine arts residential college “Widner House” in honor of him.
He maintains an ambitious clinic and festival schedule at high schools and colleges throughout the United States. This includes a series of summer jazz camps, spearheaded by members of the Jim Widner Big Band, which records with Chase Music Group. Their critically acclaimed CDs include “Yesterdays and Today,” “Body and Soul,” “Live” and “Flying High.
The Jim Widner Big Band will celebrate its 25-year anniversary with the release of a new CD, “The Beat Goes On.”
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