John Rapson

Celebration of Life

2:30 pm
Sunday, August 8, 2021
Voxman Building- Recital Hall
93 E. Burlington Street
Iowa City, Iowa, United States

Obituary of John Rapson

Ira “John” Rapson passed away peacefully at home on July 21, 2021. He was a beloved member of the community, a renowned jazz trombonist and composer, and a gifted teacher who helped lead the University of Iowa School of Music Jazz Program for 26 years. He conducted the Johnson County Landmark orchestra and established both BA and MA degrees in jazz during his tenure at the university. John was born in Indiana in 1953. He is the oldest of four children; John, Debbie, Dave and Jim, born to Ira and Sue Rapson. He grew up first in Wheaton and then Rock Island, Illinois, where his father was a professor at Augustana College. He became interested in music at a young age, first learning to play piano and then taking up the trombone after his family moved to California when he was in the fifth grade. He developed a love for jazz during his teenage years when he discovered a neighbor’s record collection while babysitting. He left home to join Up with People at age sixteen and it was during his last two years of high school on the road that he learned to write music and arrangements. He studied music at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where he met his wife of 43 years, Beth. Together, they moved to Los Angeles, where John received his master’s in composition and theory at Cal State University Northridge. During this time, he played with many L.A. avant-garde musicians who would become lifelong collaborators and friends in a career that spanned dozens of innovative albums and countless performances as a leader, sideman and composer. In the years that followed, he often would tell stories of how fortunate and grateful he was to have met and worked with such gifted players. In 1980, John returned to Westmont College as a professor. Their children, Sam and Hannah and Clara were all born in Santa Barbara. In his 10 years teaching at Westmont, he directed the brass ensemble, started a jazz band, taught composition and theory, and created a course focused on “Creation and Perception.” He chaired both the Music and Fine Arts Departments during his time there. In 1990, John, now full professor and tenured, quit his job at Westmont College and moved his family to Connecticut to pursue doctoral studies in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. There, he explored other world traditions that broadened his interest beyond classical music and jazz. Being on the east coast also afforded him the opportunity to collaborate with leading musicians in New York and Boston while working on his doctoral studies. More than his accolades, John was known for his huge heart and his connection to people. He attended Trinity Episcopal Church for many years, where he composed and arranged liturgical music for Vespers and also wrote a Mass. He hosted a popular local radio show called “As Night Falls” on KSUI, eager for the chance to introduce listeners to new music. He was a prolific composer in his own rite, but also one who lovingly labored over fellow artists’ musical work, taking pains to transcribe and orchestrate their creative ideas when they lacked the tools to do it themselves. His kindness and generosity were felt in and out of the classroom, and shared by all who were invited to join him for a cup of coffee on the porch or a meal around the table. His inclination toward working together with diverse groups of musicians, artists and styles throughout his career, was exemplified in recordings and productions such as Crescendo and Hot Tamale Louie. However his true legacy remains in the many ways he encouraged and inspired fellow musicians and students to experiment and to commit themselves to the music and to one another – he believed in everyone’s dream. John was a life enthusiast, community-builder and storyteller - he had a way of making the mundane seem marvelous and delighting in the littlest things. He believed being a good friend was more important than being a good musician. He loved to read aloud, rock babies to sleep, and to watch the goldfinches visiting the bird feeder. He loved the cabinetry Beth built. He loved gathering with his Northside neighbors for “sunset club,” and the look on a friend’s face as they discovered a new song. And he LOVED the Detroit Tigers and his boyhood hero, Al Kaline (the Tigers went on a 7-game winning streak after his passing). He could often be found browsing the shelves at Prairie Lights Bookstore or taking up a conversation at The Goosetown Café bar. He would notoriously remind his audiences to support local establishments and tip their wait staff well! He will be remembered as a devoted friend, a gentle and supportive husband, a dearest papa and a most attentive “Anpa.” His final recording project, Estaban, Children of the Sun was recorded in his daughter’s basement at Rose Hill weeks prior to his passing. It will premiere at The Englert Theatre on October 3, 2021. John’s wife Beth, their children, Sam (and Ole) Rapson, Hannah Rapson and Clara (and Ryan) Quinn, grandson Jacob and granddaughters Ida, Cecelia & Addie will miss him greatly. He is predeceased by his parents and by his grandson Ulysses Theodore Quinn. *** Due to unpredictable weather forecast, the Celebration of John's Life has been moved to the Recital Hall in the School of Music. (Voxman Building- Recital Hall, 93 E. Burlington Street, Iowa City) and will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 8, 2021. Parking is available on the street and in the nearby city parking ramps. A reception will follow the service in the lower level of the building. John's services will be livestreamed and can be viewed at the Livestream link under obituaries or by copy and pasting the following link and it will take you directly to the site: In lieu of flowers, donations to Hot Tamale Louie Iowa City (HTLIC Media) are welcome. Checks can be mailed to Larew Law Office @ 504 East Bloomington Street, Iowa City, IA 52245 and online donations can be made at (see link under Memorial Donation tab).
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