Jackson Creek Middle School band director Joseph Donnelly, this year’s B’town Jazz Al Cobine Award winner, reached into the heart of Bloomington’s past with his recent student production of “Wash Board Blues,” a musical about Hoagy Carmichael.
Nothing could honor the rich musical legacy of Al Cobine better than a show about Hoagy, performed by 60 of Donnelly’s middle-school jazz musicians and singers. Donnelly’s original music and lyrics, telling the remarkable story of Carmichael, made Bloomington’s Indiana Avenue historical marker to Hoagy “come alive.”
“The success of the Carmichael show probably is the key reason I was honored with the Cobine Award,” says Donnelly.
A graduate of New Trier High School in Chicago, Donnelly studied music education at IU in the late 1980s, where he took courses with legendary jazz professor David Baker and saxophonist Eugene Rousseau. He left IU in 1990 to tour with rock bands before going back to Chicago to study at the VanderCook College of Music, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music education in 1994.
Donnelly then returned to Indiana where he taught music in public schools in Indianapolis and Columbus. In 2012 he got a master’s degree at VanderCook College of Music and became band director at Jackson Creek Middle School in Bloomington.
At Jackson Creek School, Joe Donnelly teaches big-band jazz, the advanced concert band, several jazz combos, and courses in exploring music and video production. Under his leadership, student interest in music has increased dramatically, with 120 enrolled in band in the fall – almost double that of his first year.
BtownJazz annually gives the Al Cobine Award for “distinguished service to the jazz community of southern Indiana.” Joe Donnelly’s students at Jackson Creek School will surely smile in approval when they see the 2019 Cobine Award plaque in his office.