John Kopecky, String Bass Teacher

John Kopecky ( 11/15/1910 to 1/17/2003 ):

John Kopecky – An Appreciation

Jon B. Hittle

Not too many years ago there was a popular poster that was often on display near the band room of your local elementary, middle or high school. You may have seen it during your visit on “Parent’s Night,” or while attending one of your children’s’ school music concerts. The poster showed a piece of sheet music containing a score of heavy, black musical notes, beneath which were the words, “If you can read this language, thank your music teacher.”

A great many Sioux City and Northwest Iowa music students have John Kopecky to thank for their ability to read music, and surely all who were his students over the years are saddened to learn of his passing this past week at the age of 92.

An accomplished performer and dedicated music educator, John Kopecky was originally from Mason City, Iowa, where he was fortunate to study under the great musician, composer and playwright Meredith Willson. He also has an early association with the great Iowa march composer and concertmaster Karl King. Following more than a dozen years on the road as a professional player in numerous dance bands-- including that of Harry James-- John adopted Sioux City as his home in the early 1940s. He joined the territory band of Sioux City swing pianist Brownie Walters and remained with Walters’ band for many years, including appearances at local and regional ballrooms and a regular radio program on Sioux City station KSCJ.

Following graduation from the Morningside College music conservatory in the early 1950s, John spent more than two decades as a music educator in Sioux City and area public schools. John’s efforts produced many fine young musicians, including a number of brass and string players who went on to become performers in the Sioux City Symphony and other fine orchestras. One of John’s early music students, the late double bassist John Mosher, gained considerable fame performing in the ensembles of such jazz luminaries as Earl “Father” Hines, Les Brown, Cal Tjader, Brew Moore, Red Norvo and Jackie and Roy Kral.

John continued to do performances during all of those years as a music teacher. In addition to his membership in the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra and Municipal Band, he often spent his summer breaks from school teaching playing in top-name jazz and dance bands. Through the 1960s and into the early 1970s, John performed on both double bass and trumpet with the national bands of Stan Kenton, Dick Jurgens and Dick Wickman, while appearing locally with Billy Redman, Eddie Skeets and other orchestras. In addition, John found time throughout the 1960s and 1970s to serve on the Executive Board of Local 254 of the American Federation of Musicians at a time when the union was engaged in a series of very difficult contract negotiations with various traveling ice shows, circuses and theater troupes over the minimum number of local musicians to be hired, their salaries and benefits.

John managed to take it all in stride. One of the funniest practical jokers who ever graced a bandstand, John’s occasional antics always kept his fellow musicians in stitches. His lighthearted approach to his craft was no reflection on his personal playing technique, which was always serious and masterful. Indeed, it can probably be said that more than a few bandleaders were willing to overlook John’s rather offbeat sense of humor in order to have a player of his caliber in their organization.

John Kopecky was a friend and an inspiration to all musicians-- amateur and professional-- who knew him. He had a unique, larger-than-life personality and he was the heart and soul of the musical arts in Sioux City and the surrounding region for many years. John will surely be missed but he will never be replaced.