Photo: Connor McCourtney
As the music of Sammy Nestico and Gordon Goodwin made its way through the walls of Drake’s Patty and Fred Turner Center on April 16, Des Moines’ jazz scene crescendoed into a vibrant harmony. The songs arose from the dedication night held to honor the donation from Fred Turner that financed the building.
Turner provided all the funds to build the new center, and as a result of the donation, Drake University and Des Moines hope to become a focal point of jazz in Iowa.
Turner Jazz Center Manager and Drake sophomore Devin van Holsteijn said the jazz center will be a new way to reach out to the community.
“People see Drake as its own unit,” van Holsteijn said. “It does its own thing and isn’t entirely part of the community. The center will bring people in, get big names and expand the music scene in the community.”
Drake University President David Maxwell said the school has a terrific program, making it all the more exciting to have the new space. The jazz band previously practiced in a worn-down building called the Mainstay, which Maxwell said should have been demolished years ago.
“What is so exciting about this is that the talent of the students can finally be showcased efficiently,” Maxwell said. “They deserve this.”
Maxwell, son of jazz artist Jimmy Maxwell, has been surrounded by jazz much of his life, so constructing the Jazz Center meant more to him than just another building on campus.
“It’s a dream come true,” Maxwell said. “This will not only enrich Drake’s life and students’, but also Fred’s life as well.”
Turner and his wife Patty give back to the university because it’s where the two of them met. Patty, who passed away in 2000, was known for being a humanitarian. Turner wanted to continue her efforts, so he donates generous amounts to the Drake music department.
Turner’s daughter, Paula Grasso, attended the dedication night in her father’s place because he was ill. She said the whole family could not be more proud or more thrilled to have the center at Drake, a place so important to her parents. Her favorite part is the “Patty’s Place” illuminated sign on the wall to commemorate Patty’s contributions to Drake’s fine arts program.
“My mom would be so humbled and stunned,” Grasso said. “She never did anything to draw attention to herself.”
Many alumni came back for the dedication night, including those who were friends of the Turners during college. The alumni formed a band under the direction of Andrew Classen, the Patty and Fred Turner professor of jazz. The band played a few tunes to kick off the event, and the Drake Jazz Ensemble I entertained the guests throughout the night to show its appreciation of the donations.
“We’ve had so many great generations of students, and we’ve never been able to get them all together,” Classen said.
With over 140 people in attendance, and 50 years of musicians in the same building, Classen said that he wants to have a dedication night every year to honor the Turners and let the graduates see the progression of the jazz program.
Addressing the crowd, Classen said, “Please come again. This is only the beginning.”