Jazz Composer, Arranger, Educator, Producer
Composer, arranger, and educator Chuck Iwanusa’s first musical influence and inspiration was his Mother. She played trumpet and drums throughout elementary school and instilled in him her love of big band music. Listening to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, and Woody Herman was a daily part of life. While a student at Perry High School, Chuck began writing for the jazz ensemble. In 1969, he submitted his first jazz composition to the Ohio Music Education Association State Solo & Ensemble Competition and received an Excellent rating.
While pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in Theory/Composition at The Ohio State University, Chuck was encouraged by Professor Tom Battenberg to write for the Jazz Ensemble. Over the next three years, the band read everything Chuck wrote and programmed several of his compositions on concerts. His composition Escape won the 1st Annual National Association of Jazz Educators’ (NAJE) Composition Contest (1973) and received its premier performance by the University of Miami – Coral Gables Jazz Orchestra. Four months later, his composition Quintessential Quest won the 7th Annual Sam Houston State University Jazz Composition Contest (1974).
During his first summer of college, Chuck attended the Famous Arrangers Workshop in Las Vegas, studying with Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Award-winning composers/arrangers Billy Byers, Marty Paich, and Quincy Jones. The following summer, he met and corresponded with Henry Mancini, who critiqued several of his orchestrations. In his last two summers at OSU, Chuck attended the Stan Kenton Clinics, studying with Hank Levy, Ken Hanna, and one of his mentors, Bob Curnow.
After graduation, Chuck moved to Los Angeles as Music Librarian and Copyist for Stan Kenton's Creative World Publications before enrolling at Bowling Green State University to complete his Master of Music Degree in Composition. Looking for a professional outlet for his compositions, Chuck started his big band, the CI Jazz Machine, which included such rising stars as trumpeter Tim Hagens and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry. In 1976, Chuck’s composition Long Awaited Arrival won the 3rd Annual NAJE Composition Contest in the Educator Category and was premiered by the California State University – Northridge Jazz Ensemble. That same year, his composition Portrait of a Lady was published by C.L. Barnhouse, as performed by the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
With degrees in hand, Chuck began a 37-year career in jazz education. He served as the Director of Jazz at CS Mott Community College (Flint, MI), Associate Dean/Director of The New School Jazz & Contemporary Music Program (New York City), President of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE), and President of the Jazz Alliance International. In 1992, Chuck delivered the Keynote Address at the first IAJE Australia jazz conference. He also established the ASCAP/IAJE Jazz Commissions in collaboration with ASCAP Sr. Vice President for Jazz & Concert Music, Frances Richard.
In recent years, Chuck has continued to perfect his composition skills by participating in the internationally acclaimed BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. At the 32nd Annual Jazz Composers Workshop Summer Showcase, his composition Tone Deaf Little Weasel was selected as the 2021 Co-Winner of the prestigious BMI Charlie Parker Jazz Prize and the Manny Albam Commission. His commission, No Man’s Land, was premiered by the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra at the 33rd Annual JCW Showcase, held at Dizzy’s Club – Jazz at Lincoln Center in June 2022.
Professional performances of Chuck's compositions include the Jazz Gallery’s Jazz Composers’ Showcase Jazz Orchestra (New York), the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra, the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra (Toronto), Ann Belmont/Chuck Iwanusa Jazz Orchestra (New York), Jazz Australia Big Band (Perth), the Kazakhstan Jazz Orchestra, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, the Akron Jazz Workshop (Ohio), and the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra (Michigan). He regularly composes for the Mike Malone Writers' Jazz Orchestra in Toronto. In 2019, The Ohio State University Music & Dance Library invited Chuck to archive his compositions, recordings, sketchbooks, and writings in the newly founded Schumacher Contemporary American Music Collection.
In addition to composing and arranging, Chuck produced the 21st Annual IAJE Conference in Boston, which set an attendance record of over 4,000 participants. He was the Executive Producer of Made In America: An all-star benefit honoring the heroes and victims of September 11. Featuring over 45 internationally acclaimed jazz artists and held at New York City’s legendary Town Hall, Ben Ratliff of The New York Times, said, “…it was what extravaganza jazz concerts should be and almost never are.” (December 8, 2001.) Chuck was also the Executive Producer for two CD samplers for Jazz Alliance International - Jazz Hear & Now and Smooth Jazz Hear & Now - released nationwide in 2004. The CDs included 14 Grammy Award winners from the 45th Annual Grammy Awards.
Born on March 31, 1952, in Canton, Ohio, Chuck resides in the Greater New York City Metropolitan area. Chuck was planning the 45th Anniversary Reunion Concert of the CI Jazz Machine in Ohio in 2020, but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The concert will be rescheduled.
“…it was what extravaganza jazz concerts should be and almost never are.”
— Ben Ratliff, The New York Times (December 8, 2001)