Biography

Chuck Iwanusa

 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 were a daily part of life. While a student at Perry High School, Chuck began writing for the jazz ensemble and in 1969 his first jazz composition was submitted in the Ohio Music Education Association State Solo & Ensemble Competition. The composition was awarded 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 programed several of his compositions on concerts. In 1973 his composition Escape won the 1st Annual National Association of Jazz Educators’ (NAJE) Composition Contest 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. 

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 Chuck’s last two summers at OSU, he attended the Stan Kenton Clinics, studying with Hank Levy, Ken Hanna, and another 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 returning to Bowling Green State University to complete his Masters of Music Degree in Composition. Looking for a professional outlet for his compositions, Chuck started his own 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. 

With degrees in hand, Chuck began a 37-year career in jazz education that included serving as the Director of Jazz & Theory/Composition 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 he had the honor of delivering the Keynote Address at the first IAJE Australia jazz conference. He also established the ASCAP/IAJE Jazz Commissions in collaboration with ASCAP’s Sr. Vice President for Jazz & Concert Music, Frances Richard.

Chuck’s compositions have been performed by several collegiate bands, including the Kansas City Conservatory of Music, McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario), Case Western Reserve University, St. Louis Community College, Kent State University and the Jazz Australia Big Band in Perth. 

In recent years Chuck has continued to perfect his composition skills by participating in the internationally acclaimed BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. His compositions have been performed by the Ann Belmont/Chuck Iwanusa Jazz Orchestra (New York), the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra (Toronto), The BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra, the Kazakhstan Jazz Orchestra, the Akron Jazz Workshop (Ohio), the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra (Michigan) and the Jazz Gallery’s Jazz Composers’ Showcase Jazz Orchestra (New York). Chuck also regularly composes for the Mike Malone Writers' Jazz Orchestra in Toronto. 

In addition to composing and arranging, Chuck has also produced concerts and recording projects. In 1994 he produced the 21st Annual IAJE Conference in Boston, setting an attendance record of over 4,000 participants. Most notably, on December 5, 2001, Chuck produced Made In America: An all-star benefit honoring the heroes and victims of September 11.  Featuring over 45 of the biggest names in Jazz 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 also produced two CD samplers for Jazz Alliance International, “Jazz Hear & Now” and “Smooth Jazz Hear & Now”, which were released nationwide in 2004. These two CDs included 14 Grammy Award winners from the 45th Annual Grammy Awards. 

Chuck Iwanusa was born on March 31, 1952, in Canton, Ohio and 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, which 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)