Ron Keezer; Eau Claire jazz mainstay

Raised money for an extensive jazz library

-By Tyler J. Henderson

His legs crossed, he couldn’t seem to stop tapping his fingers on his shoe. Anyone who knows a percussionist knows this is a common occurrence.

“I’m always moving, I don’t even think about it,” he said with a smile.

Ron Keezer, 72, has an extensive history in the musical arts community here in Eau Claire. Over the years he has been a student, teacher, professor, and mentor to young students throughout the community.

“Eau Claire has such a rich history of jazz,” said Keezer. “In fact a lot of small towns do I think, but Eau Claire seems to be especially (rich), a generating source that just keeps cranking musicians out.”

Born in Eau Claire on June 4, 1940, he was raised as a multi-talented artist, taking dance lessons as a child and later starting the drums at the age of ten. By the time he was in high school, he played in a big band. It was then that he decided he was going to study music in college.

After going to college in Winona for two years, he saved his money and moved out to Boston to go to Berklee College of Music. Not knowing anyone in Boston, he had to figure out his own way to get into the school.

“I sat on the steps in front of the old Berklee College of Music until Mr. Berk came in, and I recognized him from the catalog,” Keezer said. “He was surprised to see someone sitting there with his drumset, like a little waife,” he laughed, “and he let me in the school.”

Keezer later came back to Eau Claire to finish his degree when he was 24 years old. It was there that he met his future wife, Mary, a concert French horn player.

In November of 1970, they had their only child; Geoffrey Keezer. He would, in large part because of his musical family, become one of the world’s top jazz pianists by the age of 18.

“Whatever I wanted to do, it didn’t matter if I wanted to be a musician or not,” Geoffrey said. “I hear stories of parents… they want their kids to get a ‘real job’, both my mother and my father were 100% behind me all the way.”

A percussion and jazz professor at the University for close to 40 years, Keezer treated his students with that same care and passion for music, and nothing has changed in that respect since his retirement in 2001.

Keezer has tirelessly been working on projects to help publish student’s music, raise money for the jazz bands, bring in guest artists for clinics, and much more. Recently, he took on his greatest project.

Edward “Pete” Peterson, a former big band leader based in Dallas, Texas, had been keeping a national jazz treasure stored in his attic for years; a collection of close to 1,000 jazz charts and even more jazz recordings.

“Pete is only getting older,” said Keezer. “He wanted to sell his library to someone that was going to use it.”

Peterson told Keezer he would sell his collection for $75,000. The German government wanted the library, but they kept “dropping the ball”, so Keezer saw the opportunity to bring the library to UW – Eau Claire.

He started calling people in February to raise the money; $75,000 seemingly a distant goal; but by April of that year he had raised the money thanks to over 200 alumni and community gifts. It took only nine weeks.

“I told my wife ‘You had better sit down for this’,” Keezer said with a smile, “It was amazing how the money came together.”

The library was analyzed to figure out it’s worth, and Keezer then found out how amazing this musical discovery was. This library is valued at a quarter of a million dollars.

“It was like discovering King Tut’s tomb!” Keezer exclaimed.

He decided to name the library after a dear friend of his and former professor at UW – Eau Claire, John Buchholz, who is battling cancer.

“The main thing was to help the program and to help the students,” said Keezer, “This is invaluable stuff. You can’t get some of this stuff anymore anywhere (else).”

UW – Eau Claire Jazz Studies chair and trumpet professor Robert Baca echoed Keezer’s statement when asked about the library.

“It’s a contribution that probably has about 100 to 150 original commissions for the band, so the library itself is so invaluable because the charts are so historically authentic.”

Baca also couldn’t say enough about Keezer’s constant works of charity for the Jazz Studies area of the University.

“He is an unsung hero that is not interested in getting credit or being observed for what he is doing,” Baca said. “He just sees it as the right thing to do.”

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Tyler Henderson