Former music professor championed jazz studies at UI

A classical musician who went on to create the University of Illinois Jazz Band, John Garvey embraced Russian folk music and Balinese gamelan in his several lives.

The music professor emeritus died July 18 at age 85 in Maryland.

In four decades here, he mentored dozens of jazz musicians, flabbergasted some of the more traditional professors in his department, introduced many to music of other cultures and excelled in arcane poker variations.

A large man, Mr. Garvey was typically conspicuous, whether cruising campus on his moped or holding court at coffeehouses.

Bruno Nettl, a professor emeritus of music and anthropology, said he expects his friend will be "most remembered for his championing of jazz studies, which he carried out for a time against considerable opposition, but which has now become a major component in the School of Music."

Dorothy Martirano, who was his only violin student and later played with him both in quartets and in his Russian orchestra, called her mentor "amazing." She said she trusted him absolutely.

"I didn't have a violin for quite a long while. He told me about one he saw in Amsterdam in a shop window, and after taking in lots of expensive ones, I finally bought (the Amsterdam violin) sight unseen. It worked out well," she said.

Another student he mentored, Jeff Helgesen, said he will never forget sitting in the coffeehouse/bar Treno's in Urbana, listening to Mr. Garvey expound on subjects, sometimes repeating himself, but always challenging listeners to find new ways to look at things.

Funeral services were held July 23 at the Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, Beltsville, Md., with arrangements by Philip D. Rinaldi Funeral Service.

There will also be a memorial service at the UI, tentatively set for Oct. 14.

Mr. Garvey was born March 17, 1921, in Canonsburg, Pa. He is survived by a son, Frank D. Garvey; two daughters, Deborah Garvey Johnson and Deirdre Ann Garvey; and four grandchildren.

Johnson said her father was a wonderful teacher.

"He gave me a sense of the great potential that exists in every person," she said.

"He did many wonderful things in his life. But for every thing that he accomplished successfully, he probably failed at 10 others. The key was that he didn't get discouraged if something did not work out. He always had many projects in the making. If it became apparent that one wouldn't work, he would be disappointed, yes, but then he just went on to the next thing."

Mr. Garvey attended Temple University, studying violin under Alfred Lorenz. He joined the UI faculty in 1948 when the prestigious Walden String Quartet was brought here from Cornell as quartet-in-residence. Garvey continued as the principal teacher of viola.

He remained a member of the quartet into the 1970s, more than a decade after he founded the UI Jazz Band. He also conducted the School of Music's chamber orchestra and remained the principal faculty member in the jazz field until his retirement in 1991.

He was instrumental in bringing new and experimental music to Urbana, conducting at the biennial Festival of Contemporary Arts in the 1960s and early 1970s. He helped arrange guest residencies at the Urbana campus for innovators and composers of new music, such as Harry Partch and John Cage, according to a press release from the school.

In the 1970s, Garvey began traveling to Russia and to Southeast Asia, in part to study performance of indigenous musics. He became an expert in Russian instrumental folk music and established the local Russian Folk Orchestra, which he conducted for more than a decade, and which toured widely in the United States and abroad. He also studied South Indian vocal music with a visiting professor from India. He traveled repeatedly to Java and Bali to hear music and collect art, instruments and textiles, which he later sold in a Champaign shop he called Nomad.

His Bali collection was given to the Spurlock Museum in 2003.

Helgesen said many of the alumni of the UI Jazz Band in the 1970s ended up in Chicago. The Jazz Members Big Band was a product of alumni of the UI Jazz Band. It's now the Chicago Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Jeff Lindberg, Helgesen said.

In his later years, Martirano remembers, the professor developed a strong interest in Balinese gamelan, which uses cymbals and other metallic instruments and features sudden changes in tempo and dynamics.

Mr. Garvey bought an entire set of gamelan instruments, which stayed in Bali for a long time before he could find a way to have them shipped to Champaign.

His daughter noted that he could make changes in his personal and spiritual life as well. In his last few years, living in Maryland, he embraced the Russian Orthodox faith.

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