Phi Mu Alpha Celebrates 50 Years

As a career band director, John Malvin is no stranger to receiving adoration from an audience, but the response he got during the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia banquet in February will always have special significance for him. Malvin and five other original members of the organization – Terry Loose, Dean Kurtz, Nolan Schwada, Larry Green and David Evans – returned to campus this year to celebrate its 50th jazz festival. After the alumni shared a few words about their time in the chapter, the current members showed their appreciation.

“The standing ovation for us at the end of our remarks brought tears to our eyes,” Malvin said. “Dr. Roger Cody, our original faculty sponsor, spoke and hugged each of us. It was a feeling I will never forget as long as I live.”

Not only is Malvin a founding member of Phi Mu Alpha at Truman, he served as the chairman for the first festival. As part of the group’s charter, they were tasked with producing a music project. After a number of failed suggestions, Malvin and Loose conceived the idea of a jazz festival, which has been an annual event ever since.

“We had no idea that it would be still going strong 50 years later,” Malvin said. “It certainly was a group effort.”

In 1968, jazz groups from across the state were invited to participate, and acts included bands from the University of Missouri, South Shelby High School and Jennings High School, as well as Truman’s own Sinfonia Jazz Band and the NEMO Singers. The performers were paid $100 each and received a turkey dinner prepared by Sigma Alpha Iota.

Despite five decades of age, the current festivals share many similarities with the original. While the turkey dinner has since been retired, the festival still serves as a celebration of the genre, but there is more of a focus on music education. The jazz festival brings in more than a dozen high school bands to perform and be judged by professional musicians. There is also a clinic those bands can attend, and the festival concludes with a concert featuring Truman’s two jazz ensembles, along with a guest artist.

In addition to helping put the whole thing in motion, Malvin has personally been able to experience multiple aspects of the jazz festival. During his career, he brought his bands to participate nearly a dozen times, and he was fortunate enough to win awards on each occasion.

Serving as the chairman, Malvin describes his first festival as a blur. In subsequent events he was working as a band director. The 50th anniversary gave him and his fellow fraternity brothers a new perspective that will always be rewarding in its own right.

“At this one, we were able to sit back and enjoy seeing the festival and the opportunity to renew old friendships,” he said. “The feeling of respect from the current Phi Mu Alpha members was amazing. They treated us all like we were something very special.”


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