By Troy Aldrich
The University of Iowa Jazz Studies Department has a long-standing relationship with Brazil; specifically, with the University of Campinas and former UI student Rafael Dos Santos.
“I had three TAs; one of them was Rafael Dos Santos,” jazz Professor John Rapson said. “He was a great TA because he was already a professional.”
Dos Santos went on to chair the popular Music Studies Department at the University of Campinas, where he also serves as a piano professor.
“We were playing super popular shows together for about five years,” Rapson said. “I was going to U Camp about every other year.”
This led to Rapson to bring the UI’s big band to Brazil in 2011. That was the same year Rapson put out his album Mystery and Manners; which features compositions by Rapson as well as Dos Santos and other Brazilian musicians.
“Our program requires students to create a diverse yet overarching theme in their final recording,” Rapson said. “We are more confident now in the reputation of the program; it’s more off the beaten path.”
UI Jazz Studies requires graduate students to compose and produce an album that embodies their work at the university, while remaining unique.
“We always try to ask the students what type of work they will be looking for and who their peers in the jazz community will be,” Rapson said. “Then we try to help them produce a piece of work that they can hand to jazz clubs or other universities.”
The international appeal of the UI Jazz Studies is something that Rapson referred to with excitement and slight disappointment. While the department hosts many different backgrounds, the international, and in some cases, American, students show the greatest potential.
“We have students coming from Puerto Rico, Brazil, among other countries,” Rapson said. “We also get applications from the United States, but oftentimes, the international students show the most experience and promise.”
He stressed that this doesn’t discount the local musicians who have contributed greatly to the program.
The creative thesis project is unmatched by neighboring universities, he noted, even though the UI was late to respect jazz as a major area of study.
“The credentials are the appeal now,” Rapson said. “Professionally, it’s not beneficial unless you’re already a popular artist.”
This is due to the shift in jazz culture; what was once the driving force of popular music has now turned to academia to survive.
“I’m off the scene at home now,” UI graduate student Fabio Augustinis said. “Being a drummer, you don’t do the calling; you get called.”
Augustinis, who just released his thesis project, has been at the university for two years. His time has proved mutually beneficial. His ability to teach and perform allowed him opportunities in the university as well as around the area.
“He is the single most-called drummer in the state of Iowa,” Rapson said.
Augustinis is joined by fellow Brazilian Rayne Dias. Dias has another year in the graduate program but has already begun compositions for his thesis project.
“My friend met John Rapson when they were both in Brazil,” Dias said. “So when I started thinking about more school, I applied to the University of Iowa.”