J. Wayne Dyess, professor of trombone and director of jazz studies at Lamar University, died Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the Medical Center of Southeast Texas. He was 65.
Colleagues, former students and friends paid tribute to him as a world-class musician who was an even better human being . . . an influential arranger . . . leader, founder, mentor and friend . . . as an inspirational teacher who made each student feel important . . . as one whose passion for music reached out to his audiences . . . as a great man full of humor and love of mankind.
Funeral services for Dyess will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Hillcrest Baptist Church, 3324 Park Drive in Nederland, with a gathering of family and friends from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, also at the church, under the direction of Broussard’s Mortuary in Nederland.
Dyess had been a member of the Lamar faculty since 1977, when he became assistant director of bands to now-President Jimmy Simmons.
“The first thing that distinguished him was his spectacular ability to play the trombone. He was a world-class trombonist,” Simmons said. “Moving on, there was his ability to inspire those who worked with him and those he taught. And there’s probably not a high school student in the state of Texas and surrounding states who didn’t play an arrangement that Wayne wrote. He was a gentle, kind, sincere friend to all. He was just a terrific person.”
Dyess was also the principal trombonist with the Symphony of Southeast Texas and performed regularly throughout the United States and internationally with several groups, including Keith Brion’s New Sousa Band and the Brass Band of Battle Creek (Michigan). From 1970 to 1974, Dyess was trombone soloist and section leader of the “World’s Finest” United States Navy Band. He led his own eight-piece band as well as an 18-piece rehearsal dance band.
Since the inception of the Lamarissimo! Concert Series in 1990, Dyess has conducted Lamar jazz bands, attracting such notable guest artists as pianist Shelly Berg, arranger-bandleader Marion Evans, musician-conductor-composer Bill Holman, trombonist Dave Steinmeyer, trumpeters Bobby Shew, Dennis Dotson and Walter White, and Grammy-winning composer and saxophonist Don Rollins, a Lamar alumnus, among others. Dyess’ concerts paid tribute to jazz greats, from Glenn Miller (complete with music students performing as the Andrews Sisters) and Harry James to Count Basie and Frank Sinatra.
“From his humble beginnings in East Texas to his performances with the Navy Band, no performance was ever too grand nor too small for his musical passion to reach the audience,” said Scott Deppe, Lamar’s director of bands. “He inspired and supported all who knew him to try harder, experience more and reach for the sky.”
Dyess was the force behind the Night & Day Orchestra, whose website paid tribute to him as “our leader, founder, mentor and friend . . . one of the good guys.” The orchestra will continue to perform in his memory and will “continue to uphold his high standards of musicianship and celebration of one of America’s true art forms: Big Band dance, show and jazz music.”
Dyess graduated with a Bachelor of Music from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, where he was selected as music alumnus of the year in 1990 and inducted into the School of Music Wall of Honor. He earned his Master of Music from The Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and Doctor of Education from the University of Houston, having also completed additional graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Wayne had a tremendous effect on me personally and professionally,” said trombonist Travis Harris, director of bands and fine arts department chair in the Denton school district. “While I was a student at Lamar, he always made me feel important, not just a student in the program, but as a person. He genuinely cared about me, trombone or not. He wasn’t just a college professor, he was part of our family. When I would come home to visit, I would always check to see if he was playing somewhere so I could go and we could be together and share the many things he’d taught me. Every time, he would make me feel like ‘royalty,’ like a son he hadn’t seen in a long time. He took great joy in my success, and I loved the fact that I made him proud.”
Betsy Hines, associate professor of keyboard studies and coordinator of class piano, fondly recalls working with Dyess.
“We had fun through the years doing the LU-llaby (of Broadway) shows,” Hines said. “He was always able to write a great arrangement that highlighted the performer but was still fun for the band to play. There’s a real knack in knowing how to do that. One time during LU-llaby, he was on the West Coast performing, and we put the show together by email.”
George Beverley, province governor of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, described Dyess as “a great man, full of humor and love of mankind."
“Wayne is so many things, wore so many hats, but to me he was a Lamar colleague, expert consultant in concert recording and my brother in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia,” said Beverley, who was station manager of KVLU public radio for many years.
Others from near and far paid tribute to Dyess, via Facebook.
“Rest in peace professor,” wrote Chelsea Tipton II, music director of the Symphony of Southeast Texas.
From across the Atlantic Ocean, Frank Osborne of the ConChord Big Band in Sussex, England, wrote: “I have never been so saddened by the passing of someone I have never actually met face to face. I got to know Wayne via the Internet through our mutual interest in big band music. We exchanged arrangements, swapped stories and kept each other up to date with the daily tribulations, successes and disappointments in the running of our bands. It was very apparent, even at the distance of Texas to southern England, of the affection and respect Wayne received from all those who had the privilege to meet him.”
Michelle Melancon of Nederland, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Lamar, wrote: “My heart is heavy to know that a great musician and friend passed yesterday. Wayne Dyess, thank you . . . for allowing me the many opportunities to perform with the Lamar Jazz Band, and adding me as a member of Night & Day Orchestra. Without you, I'd still be a lowly clarinet player who would have never, ever touched a saxophone or continued playing bass guitar. Thank you for believing in me and helping me through the years to become the musician I am today.”
“He was an incredible musician and an even better human being,” wrote Scott Weiss, former Lamar director of bands, who performed with Dyess in the Lamar Brass Quintet. “I feel very fortunate to have had the honor of knowing him. To be sure, there are some amazing trumpet and trombone duets happening in heaven now.”
On March 7, the Lamar Wind Ensemble will premiere an original composition in honor of Dyess as a featured work in the Lamarissimo! Concert Series. The program, sponsored by ExxonMobil, begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Julie Rogers Theatre. The Lamar chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, national honorary band fraternity, commissioned Lamar music alumnus Joel Love to write the work, “A Cardinal’s Hymn.”
“It will be extremely touching, and a real honor, for the Lamar Wind Ensemble to present the world premiere of ‘A Cardinal’s Hymn’ in tribute to Dr. Dyess,” said Deppe, the ensemble’s conductor.
“This beautiful piece by Lamar alumnus Joel Love had already been commissioned in honor of Dr. Dyess, a beloved teacher and mentor in the music department at Lamar for many years,” said Russ Schultz, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication. “With his passing, it will now stand as a perfect musical tribute to Dr. Dyess, whose generous spirit and gracious teaching style lifted one student at a time. His memory will always bring harmony to the world.”