John Radd was the very popular director of the Jazz Ensemble at UW-RF from 1968-1986. He was born in Buffalo, NY, in June 1933 and attended Bishop Ryan High School. He received his B.S. from S.U.N.Y. - Fredonia in New York and then an M.M.Ed. from the University of Buffalo. He also earned an M.A. in theory and jazz studies at the Eastman School of Music. He first taught at Seneca Vocational High School in New York and then Hamburg Junior High School. In 1968 he came to UW-RF.
Mr. Radd taught classes in theory and jazz ensemble as well as class piano. Playing jazz piano was his great love. He was a charismatic teacher and a great recruiter for the university. From 1971-1991 he taught jazz to high school students every summer at the Indianhead Arts Center in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. Wherever students met him, they followed to study with him. Students who were accepted at various universities would choose to come to River Falls because of him.
John was of Polish ancestry, and one of the highlights of his career came in 1981 when he took the UW-RF Jazz Ensemble to Poland to participate in an international jazz festival, where they all had a wonderful time and were well received.
John was an exceptionally hard worker and dedicated to his students and to his teaching. He was selfless with his time and helped colleagues and students alike. He was multi-talented, like Bill Abbott and Don Nitz, and could teach everything except brass. On Friday afternoons, John could often be found at Emma's, enjoying a beer and surrounded by excited students who wanted to talk about jazz and improvisation and piano techniques and their favorite musicians.
He became exceptionally proficient in playing jazz piano and improvisation. He was invited to participate in the Banff Summer Music Camp in Canada. He made videos, taped in Madison, on improvisation. He conducted Rzewski's "Satyrica for the Jazz Ensemble," which premiered at UW-RF and was then performed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. His son Peter, a student at UW-RF, was also a very gifted jazz musician.
John formed a jazz ensemble with Jim Gaultier on trumpet, Terry Smith on percussion, and Bob Samarotto on alto or tenor saxophone. They performed in many venues in the Twin Cities and were very well liked. He was then offered the opportunity to play piano on cruise ships out of Florida, and he began to do this during his vacations on a regular basis. John was very gifted, successful, and popular and could play classical piano music as well as highly improvisational pieces. Every Christmas, Bill Abbott and John Radd would give a special holiday concert at which they would improvise Christmas carols in the style of various classical composers from Bach to Gershwin to the delight of the audience. After Dr. Abbott died, Peter Radd played the concerts with his father.
John Radd resigned from River Falls in 1986 and died on board a cruise ship in 1990.