ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Kalama native John Moawad instilled the passion of music in the hearts of many and took jazz to a place most had never seen. Moawad, who passed away in November 2009, taught music at Central Washington University for 28 years and was considered by many to be the dean of jazz educators on the West Coast. In his honor, CWU is hosting the John Moawad Celebration and Reunion Concert Sunday, May 16, at 1 p.m. in the SURC Ballroom. Tickets are $10 at the door. Proceeds benefit the John Moawad Scholarship Endowment.
“John Moawad was easily one of the most dynamic personalities I’ve encountered,” explains Norm Wallen, who studied under Moawad from junior high through graduate school and is currently musical director of the Olympia Jazz Senators. “Without even trying, he had an uncanny ability to dominate any room with his presence. I knew him as an educator who continually inspired students to do amazing things. He led by professional example, but did it from a youthful and cutting-edge perspective entirely out of step with his teaching peers.”
Moawad first came to CWU as a student and received a Bachelor of Education in 1959 and Master of Education in 1963. He taught music at Stevenson High School and Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School, where he is remembered for taking a study hall full of unruly students and turning them into a men’s glee club that performed at the Seattle Opera House.
From there, Moawad came back to Central and served as the head of CWU’s widely respected jazz studies program from 1970 to 1998. In fact, the success of Central’s music department and its premiere jazz studies program is largely due to Moawad’s inspiration and energy.
“He never forgot a student’s name or face,” recalls Wallen. “To the astonishment of everyone, in chance meetings with people he hadn’t seen in years, John could recall humorous stories of antics like they’d happened yesterday.”
In 1984, Moawad received the CWU Distinguished Professor Award. He was inducted into the Washington Music Educators Association Hall of Fame in 1998.
Referred to often as coach, teacher, mentor, and father figure, Moawad touched the lives of future musicians in ways they never thought possible. His reach included the many high school students who took part in the John Moawad Invitational Jazz Festival at Central, the CWU students who studied under him and supporters of Ellensburg’s summer jazz festival, Jazz in the Valley.
To describe him, former students often use the words distinguished, inspiring and charismatic. Moawad gained quite a reputation as one of the finest jazz music educators in the United States. Many well-known and respected professional musicians and music educators have studied under Moawad. They include Bruce Babad, Chris Bruya, Dave Barduhn, Kelly Kunz, Dave Aaberg, Reuel Lubag, Marianne Saunders, Mike Mattingly, John Sanders, Valerie White Williams, Garey Williams, Kristina Ploeger, Wallen, Mike Mines, Jon Wikan, Gary Hobbs, Darren Motamedy and Michelle Weir to name a few.
“Though my time, consistency and variety of experiences with John may be more than most, I am certainly not alone,” Wallen points out. “John Moawad has legions of similar sons and daughters in jazz who are better musicians, teachers and people through knowing him. That will probably be his most enduring legacy.”
The memorial celebration will feature four alumni ensembles to benefit the John Moawad Jazz Scholarship Endowment. For more information, to make a donation or to RSVP, visit www.mycentral.cwu.edu/moawad or call 509-963-2160. Persons with disabilities may request reasonable accommodation by calling the Center for Disability Services at 509‑963‑2171 or TDD 509‑963‑2143.
Central Washington University is a master’s degree-granting institution with approximately 10,000 students and 1,500 faculty and staff. More than 160 undergraduate and master’s degrees are offered. Founded in 1891, the Ellensburg campus is located in the heart of Washington State, nestled between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River. Since 1975, CWU has served the needs of place-bound students at six university centers throughout the state. CWU is an AA/EEO/Title IX Institution. TDD 509-963-2143.