During the spring and early summer of 2020, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Wisconsin music community lost two standout performers and supporters of music and music education. Ron and Mary Keezer passed away on June 14 and March 31, respectively, leaving a 55-year music legacy of enthusiasm, talent and generosity.
Ron Keezer, a Blugold graduate and associate professor emeritus of music at UW-Eau Claire, was a champion and key figure in the development of jazz education across Wisconsin, particularly at UW-Eau Claire. Mary, also a Blugold graduate, was a founding member of the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra and a much-celebrated teacher as well. Together, they spent their summers over several decades teaching and performing at the Shell Lake Art Center near their lake home in northern Wisconsin.
In honor of their joint legacy of enthusiasm and support for Blugold students and music education, UW-Eau Claire jazz studies is hosting the inaugural Keezer Legacy Concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at Pablo Center at the Confluence.
The tribute concert, to be held in Pablo’s RCU Theatre, will feature Ron and Mary’s son, Geoffrey Keezer, a renowned jazz pianist, composer and producer nominated for multiple Grammy awards, who is currently teaching jazz piano at The Juilliard School in New York City.
"I am deeply honored that my parents' legacy is being celebrated in this way, with music — the thing that first brought them together, and that which they dedicated their lives to teaching to others," Geoffrey Keezer says. "Ron and Mary Keezer were deeply invested in their community, in this beautiful little place which I'm proud to call my hometown. UWEC has some of the finest student jazz ensembles in the nation — perhaps it's because of the patient, nurturing and demanding baton of their director, Robert Baca, or it's something in the water — and it's always a pleasure when I get to perform with them."
Also performing on Thursday will be Chicago-based freelance drummer Cami Mennitte Pereyra, and the UW-Eau Claire Jazz I and Jazz II ensembles. Minnette Pereyra, a native of Argentina, graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2018 with a degree in music performance. She was the Jazz I drummer — and only female — for two years, seasons that both earned prestigious Downbeat awards for the ensemble. See related story.
Honored and missed by many
This inaugural tribute event was made possible by a generous gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation from Milt and Peg Snoeyenbos, longtime supporters of UW-Eau Claire’s jazz program. With two landmark Foundation gifts to the department of music and theatre arts, the pair established the Margaret and Jack O’Farrell Jazz Advancement Fund and Director of Jazz Fund, both in honor of Peg’s parents.
Robert Baca, professor of music and director of jazz at UW-Eau Claire, was the first recipient of the O’Farrell Jazz Director Award in 2019. A key organizer of this tribute concert, Baca considered Ron Keezer to be his “biggest supporter, defender, father figure and encourager,” a man who Baca says did all in his power to help his friends and students achieve their dreams in music.
“Ron and Mary Keezer touched countless lives simply because of who they were,” Baca says. “Who would have thought that a boy from Chippewa Falls and a girl from Augusta, who chose to live out their lives near their small hometowns, could make such a profound difference to the lives of so many?”
“They were two people who lived to enrich the lives of others through music education — I know I speak for all of us in stating that it was a privilege to call them friends.”
Help support Blugold music students
With the birth of this annual tribute concert, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation has announced the Ron and Mary Keezer Memorial Jazz Scholarship. All concert ticket proceeds will provide talented Blugold students with financial support to pursue their passion for jazz at UW-Eau Claire.
Tickets for the RCU Theatre show are on sale at $20 for adults and $10 for students. A virtual livestream also may be purchased for $20. A link will be emailed the day of the performance.
Another way to honor the Keezers, while supporting music students, is to sponsor a concert ticket for a Blugold student. For $30, your purchase provides a student ticket to the event, and you will receive livestream access as well.