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A Great Bandleader: Remembering Ray Voss (1928-2011) PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - In Memorium
Written by Leo Schubert   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 08:29

Ray VossIt’s not just anyone who is able to manage an annual jazz festival. Ray Voss, as president of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society, had a unique ability to ensure the continuing success of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival.

He was a committed fan of the traditional jazz style of the 1920s and ’30s, and in particular the music of Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke. Starting with that musical interest, it was natural that Ray would join the volunteers responsible for bringing the annual festival to life on the banks of the Mississippi River. His first assignment, a modest one, was in the late 1980s, when he volunteered to coordinate the festival’s handicapped-parking area.

Ray volunteered each successive year in a variety of roles, willing to serve anywhere he was needed. In 1993, in recognition of his commitment to the festival, Ray was asked to join the Bix Society’s board of directors. For the 1994 festival, he served as assistant festival director. The following year, he was appointed festival director, a job in which he was responsible for managing four music venues, 25 festival committees, and 200-plus volunteers. Voss was elected president of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society in 2002, a position he held until his death on February 22, at age 82.

In 1945, Ray enlisted in the U.S. Navy for two years. Following his service, he used his skill as a machinist to become co-owner and operator of Lenker-Voss Manufacturing & Development Company and Eagle Valley Manufacturing Company, both in Eldridge, Iowa. In addition to his interest in jazz, Ray also collected rocks and fossils and was a skilled visual artist.

Ray was also an artist at working with people. He had the leadership ability to organize and inspire the many types of individuals who come together to produce a jazz event the size of the Bix Festival. In such an endeavor, there are differences of opinion on many topics. Decisions have to be made, ranging from which bands to hire to what color the annual promotional brochure should be.

Band selection for the festival always presents a dilemma. Should the society adhere to its stated mission of the “preservation of traditional jazz,” or should bands that play other jazz styles be hired? Ray welcomed, valued, and considered each person’s ideas on that subject. He seemed to intuitively understand how to balance the conflicting views while adhering to the society’s mission of presenting traditional jazz music to the fans of Bix.

Volunteers give their time, their expertise, and their support for a variety of reasons. Working for a business, one trades labor or a skill for money. Volunteering is different: If people don’t feel valued, they don’t continue to donate their time and effort. Many times, Bix Festival volunteers have been heard to say: “Yes, I enjoy the music of Bix and traditional jazz, but I’m a festival volunteer because Ray told me I was needed.” By personally thanking each volunteer, Ray made each one feel responsible for the success of the festival.

A bandleader has to mold musicians with different playing styles, different instruments, and different interpretations of the score into an unified ensemble. As president of the Bix Society, Ray Voss was a bandleader in his own way. Under his leadership, several hundred volunteers, sponsors, musicians, and patrons were molded into the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival. Voss was instrumental in ensuring that the music of Bix Beiderbecke would continue to be played along the Mississippi.

At the 40th Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in August, we will miss the tall man with a slight smile, the easy stride of a Navy veteran, and the warm greeting he had for all. The Bix Society’ s motto is “Bix Lives.” With each band’s opening note, we will be reminded that Ray Lives, too.

Leo Schubert is secretary of Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society.

For more information on the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society and the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, visit BixSociety.org.


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