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Sound Circuit

Celebrate Jazz Month


Des Moines may not be a hotbed of jazz compared to New Orleans or New York City, but music lovers can still celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month locally in April. Jazz month recognizes and celebrates the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz. 

Abe Goldstien, who is the director of the Community Jazz Center (CJC) of Greater Des Moines, hosts a local jazz radio show, organizes Jazz at Caspe Terrace and is a longtime jazz advocate, says Des Moines has a rich jazz history.

“Des Moines was often referred to as ‘Sin City on the Prairie,’ thanks to the entertainment scene that existed on Center Street in the 1920s through the 1950s,” he says. “The Des Moines Big Band is among the oldest running big band organizations in the country, dating back to its days as Drake’s Phi Mu Alpha Band in the 1950s. The band performs every Wednesday night in Des Moines.”

For the past 30 years, The Community Jazz Center of Greater Des Moines (CJC) hosts a monthly jam session exclusively for local high school students. CJC established the Des Moines Jazz Hall of Fame in 2001, recognizing area jazz musicians for their commitment to the city. Today, more than 36 musicians have been inducted into the hall of fame. 

Goldstien says April is the perfect time to expand your musical jazz repertoire by attending one of the events below. Learn more at http://cjc-dsm.org. 

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Jazz vocalist Judy Niemack to perform at Caspe Terrace March 17

Judy Niemack’s varied career as a jazz vocalist and music professor has spanned more than 40 decades in two countries. With 15 albums and hundreds of vocal jazz performances, Des Moines jazz fans are in for a treat with Niemack’s first-ever Iowa concert at Caspe Terrace in Waukee on March 17. John di Martino accompanies her on piano.

Niemack’s tour to Iowa coincides with her teaching a class at Iowa State University, where her great aunt was a classical violin professor. 

“I’ll be bringing some of her original compositions to the trip,” she explains.

Niemack began singing in church at age 7. She was trained in both classical and opera styles, since few jazz opportunities existed for women in the 1970s and 1980s. 

“In New York, most jazz singers were female and not white. There was nowhere for me to study,” she says. “Men were ‘king’ in the jazz community and not women.”

She persevered, finding mentors and musicians for inspiration. She moved to New York in 1977 and sang countless memorable concerts.

She performed with award-winning jazz great George Benson, singing “Moody’s Mood for Love.” 

Another time she sang with a jazz band and, in between shows, hung out in the kitchen. The owner of the club came in, saying, ‘Frank is coming!’ 

“I said, who is Frank?” recalls Niemack. “And in walked Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.”

They were on tour with the Rat Pack; however, Dean Martin was hospitalized and not with the duo. When Niemack sang, Sammy Davis came out and “scatted” with her. 

“It was wonderful. He said we should do an album together.”

Later, she sang at the White House when George H.W. Bush was president. A review in the New York Times proved exhilarating to see her name in print.

She developed a singing technique on how to sing the blues, outlined in a Hal Leonard book, “Hear It and Sing It.” In Germany, she blazed a trail in 1995 and was the first-ever vocal jazz professor at a German university. 

“It was an honor,” she says. 

Today, the university’s jazz professors are her former students. One of the students who took her master class recently won a 2023 Grammy award. 

“Samara Joy got the best new artist. I met her in 2018. She was so perfect,” Niemack recalls. “Vocal jazz is now more mainstream, a wide-open field.”

She explains that jazz is improvising with voice inflections. 

“It’s fun to experiment,” she says while demonstrating on our call.

Niemack recently retired from teaching in Germany and teaches occasional master classes. She says she feels alive when she’s onstage singing.  

“The audience’s reaction is beautiful. I’m in my bliss state, and performing is my favorite. As musicians, we need to perform,” she reflects. “We’re dependent on creating with other people. We need that interaction. Making music is the goal and the reward.” 

For ticket information, visit jazzatcaspe.weebly.com.


Upcoming jazz events

• March 17, Judy Niemack, Caspe Terrace

• March 17, CJC Big Band, Franklin Junior High 

• March 28, Jazz Orchestra, Turner Center/Drake 

• April 5, Anat Cohen/Marcello Concalves CMA/Noce

• April 12, Max Wellman sings music of New Orleans, Noce

• April 7, CJC; six hours of local jazz, Turner Center/Drake

• April 25, Jazz Orchestra, Turner Center/Drake

• May 5, CJC Student Jam Session, The Cave DSM 

• May 5, Michael Jefry Stevens, Christian Howes; Caspe Terrace

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