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Jim Widner 1946-2021

Christian Wissmuller • ArchivesBackbeatCurrent IssueOctober 2021 • October 26, 2021

Music educator and one of the founding members of the Jazz Educators Network, Jim Widner, passed away suddenly of a heart attack on October 3, 2021. He was 75 years old.

The former bassist with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Widner performed with the likes of Buddy DeFranco, Randy Brecker, Clark Terry, Mulgrew Miller, Louis Bessson, and Bill Watrous, among many others. He also appeared at the Montreux and Lionel Hampton Jazz Festivals and served as guest conductor for multiple all-state jazz bands.

In addition to serving as a faculty member of the Kenton camps for a decade, he also helped Stan to expand his program from California to multiple other locations nationwide. The Jim Widner Big Band hosted a number of popular and well-regarded jazz camps each summer and Widner’s advocacy for such programs was the stuff of legend. “Camps and workshops let you learn from the best of the best jazz artists and educators,” he said in a March 2008 JAZZed cover feature. “I always ask any band I direct to remember how they sound on the first day and then remember how they sound on the last day. That is the measure of progress.”

Widner served as artist in residence and coordinator of jazz studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis where, in 1999, students elected to rename the music wing of the Fine Arts Residential College “Widner House” in honor of him. For much of his life he also maintained a rigorous festival and clinic schedule which took him to high schools and colleges across the U.S.

When asked about his career highlights in that 2008 JAZZed profile, Widner offered the following: “The highlight of my professional career is being able to hold a big band together for 20 years under my name… My highlight as an educator has been to be able to walk into any situation – be it clinic, festival, or anything else – and make a contribution to help a band or even a single individual sound better.”

Those contributions were real, meaningful, and impacted many in the jazz and music education communities. Jim Widner will be missed.

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