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Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame
2000 Candidates

Earle Hesse

Earle Hesse Probably no one has ever done more to interest Arkansas young people in jazz than Earl Hesse. He could do it because he is not only a teacher of jazz but a performer who can improvise and play any book with any band in the land. Hesse, who was born in Stuttgart in 1934, moved with his family to Memphis, where his first public performances were in jazz bands on Beale Street while he was a high school student. A music scholarship took him to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where he earned his bachelor and masters degree. He later received a doctorate of arts at the University of Mississippi. His first teaching jobs were as band director in Crowell and Cisco, Texas, and at Goddard High School in Roswell, N. M.

In 1970, he came home, becoming a professor of music --he taught applied woodwinds-- at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia until he retired in 1997. He was the director of Henderson’s prize-winning Collegiate Jazz Band for 15 years. Hesse also was an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Ouachita University in Arkadelphia. Since his retirement, he is in demand as a studio musician, soloist, lecturer, clinician and adjudicator. Hesse was a member of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra for 14 years, and still performs with symphonies in Pine Bluff, El Dorado and Tupelo, Mississippi.

He also holds the principal saxophone chair of the Arkansas Wind Symphony, where he was judged the best soloist of 1997 for his rendition of “theme and Variations for Soprano Saxophone.” But his real love is popular music, especially jazz. He has performed with such well-known musicians as Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Buddy DeFranco, Lou Rawls, Eddie Fisher, Donald O’Connor, Bob Hope,, Pattie Page, Brenda Lee, Al Hirt, Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, Ace Cannon, B. J. Thomas, Robert Goulet, and Harry Connack Jr.

In just the last five years, Hesse has been a sideman in orchestras named for Jimmy Dorsey, Nelson Riddle, Jan Garber, Tommy Dorsey, Les Elgart, Russ Morgan and Benny Goodman. He frequently plays on the riverboat Mississippi Queen and for the Jan Garber and the Dick Jurgens orchestras on American Queen cruise ships.

Most Arkansans know him as the short fellow with the gray beard who in the 1980’s and 1990’s played with the very popular Happy Tymes Jazz Band at concerts and parties in Little Rock and around the state. Hesse has made dozens of records for others as a studio musician but never one for himself. His wife and four children have been pestering him for one, and he has finally done it. It’s a CD called simply “Hesse.” In an attempt to please family and friends, there’s quite a variety of tunes - even a couple of religious and country songs. He hasn’t decided yet whether to try to sell it. Many hope he will.

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