Episode 15: Mary Jo Papich

Known for her avid support and leadership in arts education, Mary Jo Papich is a co-founder and first president of the Jazz Education Network (June 1, 2008) which has membership in all U.S. states and 22 countries.  Through her efforts in JEN Outreach over 50,000 people have experienced America’s art form.  She is the founder/artistic director for Jazz Festivals for students in New Orleans and Puerto Vallarta.  Having served public school education for 35+ years, MJ retired in 2009 as Fine & Applied Arts Chair at Highland Park High School (IL) and was coordinator of the unique FOCUS ON THE ARTS festival featuring many pros and alumni in the arts with hundreds of student and parent volunteers.  She was asked to serve as Fine Arts Director for Niles D219 (2009-2012) recognized as one of the finest HS Fine Arts program in the nation.

While the district Fine Arts Coordinator of 35 schools in the Peoria Public School System #150 (’92-’01), Papich founded and directed the Peoria Jazz All Stars whose performances included Montreux, North Sea, and Umbria Jazz Festivals, IMEA Conference, American School Board Association Conference and many other state and local events.  In her retirement Papich is once again directing the All Stars in Peoria Public Schools, having been in existence 25 years spawning the careers of many young musicians.  Many of her students are professional performers and educators today with several earning Grammy nominations and an Academy Award.  Prior to her administrative positions, Mary Jo was an award winning band director at Peoria’s Woodruff High School (’82-’92) with competitive marching and jazz programs, participating in many nationally televised events including Chicago’s annual Thanksgiving Parade, Citrus Bowl, Peach Bowl and as the featured HS band in Macy’s Summer July 4th Extravaganza in NYC.  Before leaving Peoria in 2001, she envisioned and founded a district Preparatory School for the Arts at Peoria High School.  Her early years of teaching were in rural Iowa at K-12 Moulton-Udell and Ottumwa public schools.

Mary Jo’s leadership/honor positions in addition to JEN include:  chairman of the Peoria Municipal Band Commission, founder of the Puerto Vallarta Jazz Festival via HP Sister Cities Foundation, serving on the Artistic Access to Excellence Panel for the National Endowment for the Arts and as a member of the Quincy Jones Consortium, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Advisory Board, International Association of Jazz Education Board of Directors/President Elect, past Illinois Music Educators Association Vice-President/Board of Directors, Highland Park Cultural Art Commission and Sister Cities, Highland Park Public Art Committee, and many other arts organizations.  She currently serves on the ArtsPartners board of Central Illinois, assists in producing the Riverfront Jazz Festival for Central Illinois Jazz Society and the Peoria Players Theatre 100th Anniversary Committee.  MJ has served since inception on the selection committee for the NARAS Foundation Grammy Music Educator of the Year award.

Recent honors for Papich include receiving the prestigious Medal of Honor from the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic, Lifetime Jazz Education Achievement Award from DownBeat magazine, the Outstanding Jazz Educator of the Year award from the Chicago Jazz Institute 2018, the Arts Inspiration Award from The Art Center, Superintendent’s Recognition Award, Character Counts Award, Huespid Distinguido from the Mayor in Puerto Vallarta and the Woman in Jazz Award from the Chicago Jazz Ensemble.  Prior awards include: Peoria Public School Superintendent’s Award, and YWCA Leader in the Arts Award.  HPHS Patrons of the Arts annually award a Highland Park High School student the MJ Papich Leadership Scholarship.  JEN has honored her with giving the Mary Jo Papich Women In Jazz Scholarship to deserving female students at their annual conference.  In 2015, Tau Beta Sigma music sorority presented her with the Outstanding Service to Music Education award and gave her an honorary induction.

Her many presentations include: countless school institutes, National Association for Music Education national Conference, many State MEA conferences, Midwest Clinic, IAJE Conferences, Siena Jazz Foundation (Italy), South African Jazz Conference (2008/2010) at the University of Cape Town and Brubeck Institute (2011). 2018 events included speaking at the Ella Fitzgerald Medallion dedication for the New York City Historic Landmarks Preservation Center and Women In Jazz presentation at Annecy Jazz Festival in France.

Papich is the editor of The Jazz Educator’s Cookbook-Creative Recipes for Players and Teachers, a collection of performance tips from outstanding educators put in recipe format for quick reading.  The Jazz Educator’s Cookbook (2013) is published by Meredith Music and distributed by Hal Leonard Music, proceeds to Jazz Education Network.  She is currently working on Rehearsing the Jazz Band to be released by Meredith in 2019 to assist novice through advanced directors in rehearsal techniques.

Mary Jo was youngest of seven children, whose father died when she was one year old.  Her hardworking mother and loving brothers and sisters raised her.  She was greatly influenced by her brother, Leonard, who was a jazz trumpet player and her sisters who sang.  She was raised in south central Iowa; graduated from Albia (IA) High School where she was a student of Leonard Bonker and was inducted into the AHS Wall of Fame in 2011 for her many accomplishments.  MJ has many adoring nieces and nephew and stays in close touch with many former students.  Having been the first person in the family to graduate from college, she received a BME from Truman (NE Missouri) State University and a Masters in Counseling and Administration from Bradley University (IL).  Papich’s professional affiliations include IMEA, NAfME/MENC, ASCD, Arts Alliance Illinois, International Women in Jazz, National Association of Professional Women and International Society for Music Education.  MJ has supported women in jazz through starting a JEN scholarship initiative in 2010 and chairing many efforts to encourage young women instrumentalists through mentoring and activities such as Sisters in Jazz.  As a former student stated, “Mary Jo Papich continues to inspire those around her to pursue the arts and arts education with passion, making a positive difference today and in the generations beyond.”

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