I only got to know John these past few years in the Tuesday breakfast group, but I really came to like and respect him. He was friendly, funny, caring and insightful, and his illness only made his good qualities stand out more. I loaned him a book once about Bob Gibson and Denny McLain during the 1968 baseball season, and he returned it with the comment: "I liked the book, but now I think I like Denny McLain a little less." The Cardinal fans in our group thought that was a generous comment.
I met John as a music major at Westmont College in 1981. I played French Horn in the Brass Choir. He challenged me to become a better musician.
I recall his passion about music and spirituality - introducing us to the concept that exercising creativity in the arts is a way of displaying the image of God as Creator. He invited me to pray Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours with him one morning on the tour bus - a completely new prayer experience for me. Several years later I became Catholic and recalled his introduction to this form of prayer.
John played for the wedding of my sister and brother-in-law (both Westmont alums) in 1984 as part of Skellig Brass. And in 1989 when my brother-in-law died tragically, John and the other members of Skellig Brass traveled to Taft to play for his funeral.
I am so grateful for the lasting musical and spiritual impact he made in my life. May God be close to his family at this difficult time. Eternal rest grant unto John, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.
John stretched my mind, my heart, my sense of musicality so, so far yet with masterful kindness and tenderness. I am picturing him conducting our Westmont Brass Choir holding on the the final note with expectation, connectedness, and deep love -- with tears in his eye in that moment, in that music we created together.
My wife and I were honored to have John and some of my fellow alums provide the music for our wedding. I can still picture my beautiful bride coming down the aisle with magnificent brass filling the sanctuary, providing a grand entrance for Kerri and her father. Another experience of tears in the eyes.
John Rapson was that rare gift who delighted most in bringing out the gifts of other, of creating gifts together, of being authentic inclusive love. Rare gift.
That was all back in the 1980s, yet those gifts still live within me. John and I had begun reconnecting just in the past year or so. Social Media and email brought us back together. I will forever cherish the CDs of John's music. Those performances capture the unique sounds and expressions of those recorded moments -- inspired, transient, immanent
I will cherish forever his embodiment of grace, humility, beauty, laughter, boundless creativity, and authentic love.
My deepest sympathy to all members of the family, and to the myriad of students who called him mentor. The students were not always found at the universities, for John taught all whom he met. While many of us, both inside and outside the ivory towers, were privileged to know him as our mentor, I believe that it is equally important that we also knew him as friend. There might be danger in using the words of pop culture song writers, but I have to quote Dan Fogelberg because "we're all just living legacies of the leader of the band." Farewell great teacher and even greater friend.
A fine hip man and scholar and a sterling voice for jazz.
It is so hard to lose John's company and example, He was one of the most kind and creative people we ever had the privilege of meeting. God bless you, John. You will always live in the hearts of those who loved you. David and Mary Depew
John used to do master classes with my high school jazz band. Every year he and some members of Johnson County Landmark would come down. He introduced us to works by composers like Thad Jones, Buddy Rich. I did not do jazz after high school. I did composition. John brought music to people. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, students, friends, and colleagues.
My entire life Changed after studying and been close to John during my master degree as a bass trombonist at UIWOA.
Thanks to his patience and Wisdom, I was able to create Three Jazz Ensembles in Federal Universities in Brazil
The obtained Knowledge and friendship made a huge diference in my life. RIP Beloved John
Alexandre Magno e S Ferreira
Trombone professor at Universidade Federal da Paraíba-PB, Brazil
I was blessed to know John as a colleague at the UI School of Music. I treasure our interactions and relationship. I want to share a special incident, which was the last time I saw him. In February of last year, he played a couple of evenings at the Goosetown Cafe. I came the first evening to hear him and stood at the rear. He was on fire. At some point, he spotted me, and during a break, he compelled me to sit at his chair with his wife and friends. It was such a gracious gesture. Afterward, we embraced warmly.
I have so many fond memories of John. Whether in the School of Music, at church, or just around town, John would always light up when encountering a friend, fast to offer a broad grin and a hug.
He championed music of all types, and I especially remember his love of Brazilian music and brilliant collaborations with pianist Rafael dos Santos.
I was honored to have the opportunity to sing John's music. A highlight of my life as a musician and an Episcopal priest came in 2011, when I was invited to Trinity Episcopal Church to sing John's mass for a service over the 4th of July weekend. It is a glorious work, one which I treasure and will offer as often as possible, with much gratitude for John's boundless faith and exquisite musical craft.
Although we miss you on the planet, John, we see you in the wild and beautiful cosmos of the Creator.
I was so sad to hear about John's passing. Along with Steve Grismore and Jim Dreier, John was a mentor to me and I learned so much from him. I studied with John as an MA student in the Jazz department from 2006-2008, and learned a great deal from him about composition, listening, and transcription. I was one of his Jazz Culture TA's and got to attend his lectures, hearing his enlightening perspective on jazz through the ages, and I also played for him in JCL during my time at Iowa. We often had composition lessons in his home office, drinking tea and talking our way through his and my own compositions. We'd often go well over time, getting caught up in conversation about all things music. Such afternoons are among my fondest memories of my two years at Iowa.
We fell out of touch for some years after graduation, as I had moved to Chicago to start my career. When the new Voxman Music Building opened a few years back I played a gig at the Mill with Marc Gratama and Scott Barnum as part of the 'alumni week' the department was hosting to christen the new facility, and on a whim I emailed John to see if he'd be around when I was in town. He told me to swing by the house when I arrived in Iowa City. When I pulled up outside his house, I could hear music through the screen door just as I had so many times years ago when we studied together. It was a dream-like moment, accompanied by an unreal feeling that I had somehow slipped back in time to 2007. I knocked, and as so many times before when no one else was home John couldn't hear me over the music - so I let myself in and walked upstairs to his office. There I found John working on some interesting new music, as expected, and we spent the next hour catching up and talking our way through his new compositions as if nearly 10 years hadn't gone by since the last time we'd done so. He came to our trio gig that night, and while I ran into him briefly once or twice in the following years at Jazz Fest, that afternoon and evening proved to be our last significant in-person connection with one another.
I'll always remember John fondly, and listening to his music this past week has again taken me back to that time in my life when music was everything to me. He was an excellent guide as I worked to expand my horizons as a musician, and as a young man. God bless John's family, and I hope things go as well as they can in the coming days. He was a special guy.
To be in John Ira Rapson’s wonderful orbit, an orbit that keeps spinning and shaping me to this day, is a wonderful blessing.
Had it not been for Professor Rapson, I wouldn’t have spent the summer in L.A. studying w/Clay Jenkins, which spurred my urge to study abroad in West Africa, which in turn inspired me to move to NYC.
Had it not been for John, I wouldn’t have explored a new approach to the Bachelor of Arts degrees, w/a double major in Music and Anthropology, opening the gates for a unique and pleasing career.
Had it not been for John, I wouldn’t have learned his heartfelt lessons on how to celebrate other musician’s successes as much as my own, and take them as inspiration, therefore squashing the fear and insecurity that can arise around artistic creativity.
Had it not been for John, I wouldn’t have so many beautiful musical experiences, life lessons, and heartfelt moments with John and his amazing orbit.
I miss you and love you, John!
John was the brand new jazz band director at University of Iowa when I started college, and I can vividly remember walking into his office while he was unpacking boxes. He was my band director for the next five years, stretching into graduate school.
John was a great band director and an avante-garde musician. But what stood the most was the care he showed for his students. We had several long conversations in my first two years of school about whether a music major was right for me and more broadly about the value and purpose of art in a world with such seemingly more fundamental problems. He was a person of faith and a serious artist operating outside the Christian bubble, which to me at the time seemed like quite the unicorn.
One particular memory that stands out. The Johnson County Landmark (the Iowa band) were playing a gig in Keokuk, Iowa in one of my last years in the group. I've struggled with performance anxiety throughout my life, and I had the usual pre-gig butterflies. In his talk to us in the green room, John told us our job that night wasn't to go out and impress people or somehow prove our talent. We were there to provide the gift of music and of the joy that produces it. I still think of that often.
This is sad news, but I'm grateful to have had the chance to spent part of my life as John's student.
People have utilized the term "creative genius" to describe John. Its a perfect fit. Sometimes those with genius don't seem to walk on the earth the way the rest of us do. John used gravity to his and our advantage and helped us see beauty and connection, history and the now. May we celebrate his life well!
John was a friend and classmate during our Westmont days. He was a creative genius and was always thinking outside the box. I loved his wit and humor. Fond memories of the Frobisher Hall Band he started. Our love and prayers for Beth and his kids and grandkids. Love, Marty and Elyse Reitzin Westmont Class '75 and '76
In the late 90's John made a presentation to my 5th/6th grade class at Weber Elementary School. We were working on a unit about the Harlem Renaissance and the origins of jazz. He gave historical insight and showed/played examples of jazz elements. The students enjoyed the engaging activity. I appreciate that he took time from a busy schedule to talk to my students. I send heartfelt condolences to the family. Diana Henry
Professor Rapson and I only crossed paths briefly. I'm sure others have great and interesting stories to tell, but here's mine. As a young adult I floundered for a bit, dealing with untreated depression and anxiety and thinking I needed to have my whole life planned ahead of me. I got to a point where I thought that not trying would be less painful than trying and failing at something. Professor Rapson was the ONLY professor who reached out to ask if I was okay. He let me retake a final on his porch on a beautiful spring day, he talked to me like an old friend, and he helped me get the professional help that I needed. He could have easily and justifiably just given me an F and carried on with life, but that wasn't who he was. He saw me in a great big world where I felt invisible. We haven't seen or spoken to each other in close to 15 years, but I will always be thankful for that. Rest in peace, John. You left the world better than you found it.
I think being a good citizen and neighbor was his true occupation and that the whole jazz business merely a side gig. John was genuine with no artifice about him. There are people in the world that you hope and pray to stay on the good side of, not risking their displeasure or censure. He was one of those people, and now, frankly, the pressure is off. My deepest condolences to his family who were lucky to have had the best of him. A lovely, lovely man, and I continue to wonder exactly where the hell that drawl came from.
Dear Beth and Family: I am so very sorry for your families' loss, John was a wonderful person and mentor to my son. I had always heard great stories about John and then I was blessed to meet him and you a year ago. Beth, you and John welcomed my son with open arms into your home while he was attending the University of Iowa. I am so thankful that Eric had such wonderful people in his life and will always remember the great impact that John made in his life. Beth, prayers to you and your family during this time of sorrow.
Sharon (Thompson) Ullrick
I had the great good fortune to have John and his family as friends and neighbors when they lived in Middletown, where we all arrived in 1990. I had been told to look for John by our mutual friend Rebecca Adams, and was happily surprised when we ended up renting houses across the street from one another. Together with Ted and Karen Canning and Michael and Ellen Webb, we enjoyed church together at Holy Trinity, and the “Guys for God” got together weekly for Evening Prayer. John was part of my “family of choice”, and a big part of what made those years some of the happiest and most blessed of my life. I was very sad that their stay in Connecticut could not be longer, but John went on to resume a great artistic and teaching career, and it is clear from the many testimonials that he continued to tough a great many lives, both personally and professionally, wherever he went. I am so glad that our friends Rob and Elaine arranged a Zoom reunion of the Wesleyan crew last year and I could see John again. Now he is playing music with the angels. A warm long-distance hug to Beth, Hannah, Clara, and Sam.
The last time I was fortunate enough to visit with John, he said something to me that I remember so vividly. With such a warm smile on his face, he thanked me for being so welcoming to him when he joined the Iowa City community. I don’t recall what I may have said or done to elicit this gesture, but John did. The warmth and sincerity of his gratitude really touched me. I always have had tremendous respect for John as a teacher, composer and musician. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing. To the entire Rapson family, please accept my heartfelt condolences for your loss. - Paul McNally
2720 Muscatine Ave.
Iowa City, Iowa
319-338-1132 or 1-866-338-1132
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