Ronald Keezer Interview




Ron Keezer was a professor of Jazz at UWEC, faculty member of Shell Lake Arts Center, and owner of Really Good Music publishing company. In this Oral history, he discusses growing up in the Chippewa and how he interacted with music. He continued with his professional music career including his work with the Eau Claire Jazz Festival and the founding of Really Good Music.


Interviewer Daniel Ott


July 26, 2017


--Full Transcript Not Available--


00:01:00 Early life, music, and family in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls. Discussion of early interest in percussion, dancing, and playing drums beginning in 5th grade.

00:05:40 Father buys Ron a drum kit for $100 (parts of which he still owns). Starts a dance band in Junior high school, playing shows around town. In High School, moves on to starting a 16 piece big-band, playing dances in the area.

00:08:00 Ron discusses lack of early training on drum set and importance of listening to learning and emulation. Talks about the influence of a local music-salesman in providing tips to Ron whenever he visited the Chippewa Falls High School band class.

00:10:15 Ron talks about sneaking into the Eau Claire “Cameo Club” after school to hear locals play music. Importance of these musicians to teaching Ron and his peers how to play, occasionally being invited to “sit in” and play with them.

00:12:15 Ron reflects on the musical culture of the region, with a particular emphasis on German immigrant stock, and discussion of bands the preceded him.

00:13:40 Ron’s recollections of the UWEC Schofield “student union” when he was a student, as a venue for bands. Discussion of learning from former faculty member Bob Gantner about the way in which Schofield had changed and its early band room in the “dungeon” below the main stairs.

00:15:00 Discussion of local music hotspots – Fournier’s Ball Room – and local bands that opened for touring bands at Fournier’s. One of these young local musicians was John Bucholtz, who Ron credits with starting the Jazz program at UWEC. Also discusses “the Hoot” which had also been “The Silhouette” earlier, between Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire, which had an unsavory reputation. The “Cameo Room,” “202 Club” which became the “Stones Throw,” the Eau Claire “Legion Hall.” General discussion of the importance of music and dancing to supporting live music locally and well-known acts passing through. Ron also reflects on regularly playing the Knights of Columbus Hall in Chippewa Falls, as well as playing in high school gymnasiums.

00:19:50 Story about copying music charts in the basement of Jimmy Knight dance studio as a teenager. Discussion of pop music chart production for big bands.

00:21:00 Ron goes to school in Winona, to study music, in 1958. Talks a bit about the limited options to learn jazz in Universities during the 1950s. 00:22:00 Getting a job playing in Ernie Reck’s polka band, and playing on television in 1959 with WEAU TV once a week, after the news. The show was very popular for 4 years, and Ron played 2 years. Ron toured with the band in the region, while he was in school.

00:23:50 The beginning of Ron’s history of the student origins of the UWEC jazz program with a “stage band” with support from Bob Gantner. Ron switches from Winona to Berklee in Boston and in 1962-1963, sends charts from Boston to a student run UWEC jazz band. Ron return’s to Eau Claire in 1963-1964, and runs the band.

00:27:00 Faculty member Joe Casey formalizes the jazz program for student credit in 1964. Casey starts the first Jazz Festival in 1967 with three bands, Eau Claire, River Falls, and Steven’s Point.

00:29:20 Importance of faculty members Joe Casey and Walter May in mentoring Ron in composition. Brief career history of Walter May. Discussion of transferring credits from his various other colleges to Eau Claire.

00:31:30 Ron graduated in 1965 and married Mary – who was a French Horn player at UWEC. Moved to Southern Wisconsin, Ron went to graduate school in Madison while Mary worked in Monroe. Moved to Muskego for jobs before his MA was complete. Returned to UWEC as graduate assistants. Hired by UWEC to teach percussion in 1969.

00:33:20 Importance of Rhodes Lewis in the expansion of the UWEC music program, harkening the “golden age” of the music department. Growth of department staff in the 1960s and early 1970s, with 500 music majors – which Ron attributed to the Vietnam War. Changes in music facilities and the expansion across the river to the Fine Arts Building (now Haas Center).

00:36:56 Joe Casey leaves in 1968 and is replaced by Dominic Spera. Importance of Spera in expanding the Jazz Festival and improving the quality of instruction for UWEC students, who Spera referred to as “Jack Pine Savages,” and making the Jazz ensemble into a nationally-recognized prize winning band. Spera left in 1977, when he went to Indiana University. Ron discusses overload teaching during the Spera era to build the music school, making it the largest in the state.

00:38:45 Bill Nolte opens the Joynt, at the same time as the Jazz program is being built up, in 1969. Discusses big acts being booked by Nolte at the Joynt beginning in 1974, on
Sundays and Mondays when acts were traveling between Minneapolis and Chicago.

00:40:45 More discussion of building the UWEC Jazz program. Spera leaves in 1977 and
eventually is replaced by Hank Mauntner – also plays trumpet. In1986, Mauntner leaves
and is replaced by Bob Baca. Importance of Baca to the Festival, the Jazz Program and
student education.

00:42:27 Ron talks about his son, Geoffrey Keezer, growing up, his success early on, composing, analyzing music, learning from instructors and clinicians at UWEC and Shell Lakes Arts Center before college, gigging around town, going to university at Berklee in Boston and dropping out to play professional jazz piano at the age of 18 with many well known jazz musicians.

00:49:20 Transitions to talking about the importance of the Shell Lakes Art Center in developing young high school musicians in the area, and serving as a pipeline to UWEC and other regional college music programs.

00:51:00 Ron discusses the 1990s briefly and retiring in 2001, and his continued connection to UWEC and the Shell Lake Arts Center.

00:52:40 Ron starts Really Good Music in 1997. Talks about his motivations for starting the business as a publishing house for smaller composers and his business process and early help from John Bucholtz and Zach Halmstad.

00:56:45 Talks about his friendships and playing music and gigs with John Bucholtz, and others.

00:58:29 Discusses changes in the late 1960s at UWEC and Chancellor Leonard Haas in
supporting the arts and expansion of the music program. Also talks about choral faculty
Morris Hayes in expanding the choral programs and groups.

01:00:00 Talks about his grandfather doing carpentry work on Schofield Hall in the 1910s and fishing for trout on campus. Mentions other family connections to UWEC.

01:01:45 Working with Bob Baca in the music department and Baca’s founding of Eau Claire Jazz, Inc. in 2008, and its importance in brining in local business people to support and advise the running of the Eau Claire Jazz Festival. The creation of 52nd St. Jazz Event on Barstow in conjunction with the Jazz festival.

01:05:30 Discussion of the evolution of the Jazz Festival and working with Bob Baca.

01:07:30 Shell Lake Arts Center and fundraising plans for expansion. Importance of the Shell Lake camp in fostering musical passion and community among high school student
participants. Talks about the high quality of professional performers that have come
through Shell Lake and UWEC.

01:11:50 Ron reflects on why Eau Claire is a special musical place - stressing culture of people in the area being musically inclined, the importance of the University supporting music, the importance of high quality music faculty, the students and graduates, all create a community and a musical network. Also discussed the importance of economic benefits of supporting music in the community and the recent “snow ball” effect of music. He calls Eau Claire, the “Florence of Wisconsin” as it is becoming an arts city.

01:14:20 Economic changes in Eau Claire as it has shifted away from the decline of rubber and manufacturing, and has diversified towards health care, technology, music, and arts. Ron’s mother worked in WWII at the factory which produced large shells. 01:18:00 Ron tells the story of how UWEC acquired and began the John L. Bucholtz Jazz collection through acquiring a music collection from a Texan, Pete Peterson for $75,000. Discussing the prominence of the jazz collection as it continues to build.

01:24:25 Ron reflects on change in how people interacted with music in the region and larger connections throughout the Eau Claire music scene – which really focuses on the growth of the network.

01:27:50 Ron tells the story of how Milt and Peg Snoeyenbos came to be philanthropic benefactors of the jazz department, including donating stock to the UWEC Foundation, financing scholarships and paying for guest clinician workshops for students.

01:32:30 Ron talks about how music education and training has changed, with a particular focus on the rise of Jazz in the United States and its expansion in education beginning in the University and spreading to the High Schools, using Eau Claire and the larger area as a point of references. Also, discusses the importance of training students broadly to succeed in a variety of contexts and in a variety of styles. Stresses the continued importance of being self-taught, listening and community. Goes on to focus on Shell Lake as a fantastic camp for music education.

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