Jack McKenzie: 1930-2010

Memorial Remembrance from the College of Fine and Applied Arts (November 17, 2010)

Jack Harris McKenzie, University of Illinois (UI) Dean Emeritus, teacher, percussionist, composer and conductor, passed away peacefully at home in Bonita Springs, FL on his 80th birthday surrounded by his family.  McKenzie was born on November 11, 1930 to Thelma and Fred F. McKenzie of Springfield, MO. 

McKenzie worked part time as a bricklayer’s apprentice alongside his father and grandfather before enrolling in Chemistry at Southwest Missouri State University.  He transferred to UI, and soon changed his major to his lifelong passion—Music—to study under Paul Price.  He roomed with friend and fellow percussionist and composer Michael Colgrass before marrying his sole love Patricia Lou Chrisman in 1951.  As an undergraduate at UI, he served as president of the Concert Band and was the first percussionist to be awarded a Bachelor of Music degree at UI (1954). 

He joined the faculty at Arizona State in Tempe, earning a Master of Arts in Education degree, and playing with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and Phoenix Civic Opera Association with his wife Patricia who played viola. 

He returned to UI in 1956, and worked through the academic ranks to become a full professor of music in 1968 and chaired of the school’s executive committee.  During this time, he wrote the first academic article on the matched grip approach and several percussion methods textbooks, and he acquired the first set of steel pans for the UI School of Music.  McKenzie was proud of his music students for their exceptional skills and accomplishments. Many now are counted among the great percussionists and music educators, including Tom Siwe, Michael Udow, Danlee Mitchell and George Frock.

On the cutting edge of percussion composition in the 1950s, many of McKenzie‘s compositions include the use of “extremist instruments.”  Among the family’s best loved pieces are Rites-Processional, Earth Air, Water, Fire; Suite for Sideman and Handclappers; Pastorale for flute and percussion; for percussion ensemble; Introduction and Allegro; Three Dances (Samba-Tango-Bolero) for Three Players Paths I and II for Solo Percussion; and Concertino for Timpani and Piano.

McKenzie was one of the founding members of the international Percussive Arts Society.  He also was one of the founders and first conductor of the University of Illinois Contemporary Chamber Players which specialized in New Music and performed widely in the US and Europe. McKenzie organized gargantuan multi-media works—Music Circus in 1967 and HPSCHD in 1969—that showcased New Music composers Harry Parch and John Cage, among others. 

McKenzie was named acting dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA) at UI in 1971.  He assumed the deanship the following year and held that position for 19 years. As dean, McKenzie understood the many benefits of international partnership and established academic programs in Versailles, France and in Shanghai when China opened its doors to the Western world. He also established a unit of Japanese Arts at FAA headed by Shozo Sato.  Recognized for these and other global initiatives in 1981, McKenzie was awarded an Honorary Doctor
of Philosophy degree from The China Academy, Taiwan. 

Concurrent with his duties as dean, McKenzie served as chairman of the International Council of Fine Arts Deans and as a member of the federal task force on the “Education, Training and Development of Professional Artists and Art Educators,” formed by the National Endowment for the Arts.  He also was a founding member of the Arts Commission of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.  In 1988, he became the director for the National Arts Education Research Center and held that position for two years before retiring from academia in 1990.  Five times while searching for directors, McKenzie served as interim director of the world-class Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, spearheading program development at the Center, including the Sinfonia Camera and
the Marquee Series.

Devoted husband of Patricia for 60 years; extraordinary father of six: Janet Graber (Stephen) of Morgantown, WV; James McKenzie (Julie) of Mequon, WI; Judith Cassidy (Jack) of Lehigh Acres, FL; Jill Trees (Joseph) of Bonita Springs, FL; Julia Furlong (Matthew) of  Galveston, TX; and Jennifer Barkley (Phillip) of Gainesville, FL; adored grandfather of 16: Caitlin, Kendra, Erin and Evan Graber; Jessie, Molly and Annie McKenzie; McKenzie Cassidy; Olivia, Ohara and Grayson Trees; Jayne, Jimmy and Jennifer Furlong; and Nick and Katie Barkley; and darling brother of Billie Jean White (Joe) of Rogersville, MO.   

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts be directed toward scholarships at the University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts or the Percussive Arts Society.

Additional links:
The News Gazette (Champaign-Urbana)
Fuller Funeral Home - Current Obiturary