Jon Poses

Jon Poses serves as executive director of the "We Always Swing" Jazz Series in Columbia.

When Jon W. Poses moved to Columbia in August 1978 to study long-form magazine writing at MU and earn his master’s in journalism, he didn’t expect he’d soon be touring across the country with four grand pianos and legendary jazz musicians as a manager. He certainly didn’t expect to later bring jazz music to the Columbia community for more than two decades as the executive and artistic director of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series.

“It’s Jon’s passion that’s kept it afloat for all these years,” says Bill Sheals, co-owner of Murry’s, a restaurant where Jazz Series concerts have taken place since its early days. “You have to give him credit for sticking with it and making it the success that it is.”

Poses talks about his experience running the Jazz Series, his love for jazz music and how it has influenced his outlook on life.

How did you get into jazz music?

I grew up in New York City, so I was fortunate enough to see virtually every major rock band that played on planet Earth. I was in high school in the ’60s, and so I ended up seeing everybody from Janis Joplin to The Doors, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and The Who. After graduating college, I went on a trip to Europe for the first time. In Switzerland in June and July, there’s one of the oldest jazz festivals, Montreux Festival. In exchange for helping to clean up, we got a ticket to the next night (of the festival). So I went and saw all these great bands that I had never heard of before.

How did it change your life?

I still love rock ‘n’ roll to this day, or blues, but jazz speaks to me in a way that they don’t. Jazz, in a sense, is about a way of life. Jazz is about democracy. Jazz is about people listening to each other. Jazz is about mutual respect. Jazz is about sharing. Aside from its unbelievable variations and spontaneity and creativity as a musical form, it also has just a kind of lesson in terms of how people should treat each other, or how I feel people should treat each other.

What do you love about jazz?

If you’re a lead violinist in an orchestra and you’re playing a Beethoven piece, you’re judged on how closely you are playing the notes, the intonations, the stops, the starts, the dynamics and the phrasing compared to what Beethoven put to paper. In jazz, it’s almost the opposite. You don’t just copy what John Coltrane sounds like or Sonny Rollins. You don’t want to sound exactly like Miles Davis. That’s what Miles Davis did. What you want to do is take Miles Davis’ music and add to it. On the one hand, you’re paying respect to the tradition; on the other hand, you’re advancing the art form. Those are all wonderful principles that I identify with.

What are some of the challenges of directing a jazz concert series?

When I started, I thought the most difficult thing was going to be getting the musicians to come to a small market like Columbia. The most difficult thing is getting people to buy tickets to come see the musicians. Ticket sales are roughly a third of our budget. So the rest of it has to be raised through individual contributions and grants and foundations and donations from individuals and sponsorships from business. So there’s a constant pressure and need to raise money. Another challenge is getting younger people interested enough that they see the value of going to see jazz and are willing to pay for it. We have 30,000, 35,000 students running around this town.

What role has the Jazz Series played in the community over the past 23 years?

More people in this town have heard jazz than they would have otherwise. I think [the Series] has brought something to the cultural landscape. We’ve added a nice piece to the arts panorama. It can always be better. It can always be more, but when I think about starting this thing at my kitchen table, and here we are in our own space downtown, it’s a good feeling.

Do you have any tips on how to get into jazz?

You start with the familiar, and ultimately, you get to the point where you can see the whole path. What jazz is about is being curious enough to go back and check out some of their early stuff and go forward and keep pushing yourself.

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