Wednesday, July 24

Nine Inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame

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The Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation (AJHF) inducted nine jazz artists and jazz industry executives from the Natural State into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame on Monday, June 17, 2024, at the Arkansas Old State House Museum, 1885 House of Representatives Chamber, 300 West Markham Street, Little Rock, Arkansas. The event, that takes place every two years, honors Arkansas’ premier talented musicians who have made outstanding contributions in the performance and support of jazz music. (Click cover photo for full image.)

This year’s inductees are:
Claude Askew, Jr. – Drummer
Tom Cox – Pianist, Jazz Educator and Executive
Robert Ginsberg – Jazz Industry Executive
David Higginbotham – Guitarist
Les Pack – Guitarist
Benjamin Pruitt, Sr. (Posthumously) – Saxophonist
Dr. Irma I.J. Routen – Vocalist
Betty Sue Chandler Ward – Pianist
James Thomson – Jazz Industry Executive (This was a surprise announcement for Mr. Thomson during the event).

“We are honored to recognize our 17th class of Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame inductees since 1994,” said AJHF co-founder James Thomson. “We are grateful to celebrate our 30-year anniversary this year as we honor these eight outstanding Arkansas musicians and executives who have made significant contributions to jazz in Arkansas.”

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Claude Askew, Jr. | Drummer
Claude “C.E.” Askew is a native of Brinkley, Arkansas. He attended Brinkley High School and graduated from Stuttgart High School and then received a bachelor’s degree from Henderson State University in 1989, and a master’s in jazz studies from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2016. “C. E.” has served as the drummer for the prestigious United States Air Force Airmen of Note. He also served as percussion instructor at University of Arkansas at Monticello. He is currently the drummer for the Clyde Pound Trio and the Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra.

Tom Cox | Pianist, Jazz Educator and Industry Executive
Tom is a native of Little Rock and a graduate from Hall High School. He later graduated from the University of Indiana in 1970 then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he received a master’s degree in composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Tom performed in Ohio with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Davis, Joe Lovano, and Cannonball Adderly. Tom started the first courses in the jazz studies program at UALR, where he was Director of Music Theory and Jazz Studies. He also participated in numerous recordings in both Cleveland and Little Rock.

Robert Ginsberg | Jazz Industry Executive
Robert grew up in St. Louis and attended the University of Missouri in Columbia, migrating to Fayetteville in 1976. He later started broadcasting his Friday night “Shades of Jazz” on station KUAF. Ginsburg is the founder of the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society where he serves as executive director. He also started the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society (NAJS) Summer Jazz Series to highlight local and regional talent and to provide scholarships for music students.

David Higginbotham | Guitarist
Dave says he was an army brat who moved to North Little Rock from Tennessee after his dad retired. He graduated from North Little Rock Northeast High School, then received a bachelor’s degree from University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and a master’s in jazz studies from University of Arkansas at Monticello. Dave played bass in a rock band for several years until attending UALR, where he discovered classical music (including vocal) and jazz.

Les Pack | Guitarist
Les is a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he graduated from high school in 1978. He later completed his bachelor’s degree at Henderson State University. Les also attended the Berklee College of Music where he studied jazz guitar, followed by a master’s degree at University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1991, where he studied guitar and composition. Les is currently a professor of music at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, where he teaches music theory, jazz band, as well as jazz guitar and bass.

Benjamin Pruitt, Sr. (Posthumously) | Saxophonist
Ben was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He began his career in the early 60’s after graduating from AM&N college, better known as University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He served as a teacher and musician in Magnolia, Arkansas, where he conducted award winning bands at Walker and Columbia high schools. From Arkansas, he relocated to Detroit in 1966 where his teaching career included directing Detroit Public Schools instrumental music ensembles at Wilson Junior High School, Henry Ford High School and Cass Technical High School. Pruitt was also the leader of his own 21-piece jazz orchestra, “Ben’s Friends” for more than 25 years. The orchestra performed regularly throughout the metro-Detroit area and performed at the Detroit International Jazz Festival and at the Birmingham Jazz Festival.

Dr. Irma J. Routen | Vocalist
I.J. is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas. She graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory School in 1963, then attended Los Angeles City College. She later received a Bachelor of Music in composition from the University of Southern California. After returning to Little Rock, I.J. received a master’s and doctorate in Education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I. J. has performed as vocalist in London and Bradford, England, various cabarets in New York and Los Angeles in addition to various venues in Little Rock and Hot Springs. I. J. currently serves as a fine arts coordinator for the Little Rock School District and director of Voices Without Borders, an elementary honor choir that specializes in solid gold music from the 60s and 70s by African American artists.

Betty Sue Chandler Ward | Pianist
Betty Sue Chandler Ward is a native of Arkansas. She graduated from Little Rock Central High School in 1956. She then obtained credits from the University of Central Arkansas, eventually becoming an administrative assistant there. Her primary instrument is piano, though she was a church organist throughout her teens. Ward is proficient in many styles though most associated with jazz, through her presence in such groups as The Swing Band of Little Rock Central High School, Swing Band Reunion, and the Betty Ward Combo.

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Kim Betton is the founder and editorial director of SmoothJazzTimes.com. The award winning television anchor/reporter and producer has worked in markets across the U.S. including NBC4 & USA Sky Radio in Washington, DC, WBKW-TV Buffalo, New York, FOX 13 News Memphis and KARK4 / FOX 16 News in Little Rock. Kim has a true love for good music! She is also a vocalist for smooth jazz and Broadway show tunes. Her love for music and the arts inspired her to launch this magazine. If you have a story idea email her at kim@smoothjazztimes.com. Thanks for checking us out! Enjoy!

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