John Pearson experience with music began when he was quite young. His mother said he would listen to the radio and sing along with the performers, learning the words to many songs. In the fifth grade, John decided to play the cornet when the high school band director talked to him about playing in the band. From then on John’s fate was sealed, playing the horn and singing his way through school. Upon graduation, he joined the Army Air Force. He continued his music in the service and for the next seven years was stationed overseas, in Washington D.C., and the Air Force Band of the West at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. He was a member of the concert and marching band, the “Singing Sergeants”, the “Tune Pilots Jazz Ensemble,” and the “Symphony in Blue.”
After being discharged, John attended St. Mary’s University on a full scholarship, and upon graduation was appointed band director at MacArthur High School in San Antonio. He served as head band director at MacArthur for 17 years. The bands received consistent UIL Sweepstakes ratings and the MacArthur Jazz Ensemble gained national recognition by winning the All American High School Jazz Festival Invitational Finals, and the International Jazz Festival held in Reno, Nevada. This group was also a perennial winner of the Brownwood Jazz Festival, the first original and largest high school jazz festival in the United States, where the judges were nationally famous jazz musicians and educators. Those were wonderful years at MAC where he was blessed with great students, parents, an outstanding faculty, and administration.
During this time, he earned a Masters of Music Degree from UT Austin, and an administrator’s certificate from SWTSU. He was then offered the position of Coordinator of Instrumental Music for the Austin public schools. At first, John turned it down, but then after a few days of thought, he reconsidered because of the many possibilities and challenges presented in building an outstanding music program in a large city school system. John met with superintendent Jack Davison and asked him “How good a music program do you want?” He replied, “The best you can build.” Jack Davison gave him the authority and responsibility to hire all music teachers, and a new chapter began for John and his family. In his second year at Austin ISD, the schools were ordered to desegregate and the challenge was on. With the help of a dedicated staff, he was able to forge ahead and build a program the music students in Austin were proud to participate. The All-City Junior and Senior High School program for bands, choirs and orchestras, and the All-City High School Jazz Ensemble (which he directed for 15 years) were initiated. He developed the All-City Festivals, which contributed immensely to the improvement of each individual school music group. For many years, Austin had more band, choir, and orchestra students that any other school district in the area. John credits this to the outstanding students and faculty at Austin ISD.
John had the opportunity to direct the Longhorn Band Jazz Ensemble, (thanks to his Austin ISD boss), which John said was a kick. Over the years, he was able to weld a very cooperative relationship with UT’s Music department and Athletic Department. The Longhorn Band was a big part of the Marching Band Jamboree, and the Athletic Department allowed the use of Memorial Stadium for this annual event.
During his career, he served his profession and colleagues in various capacities: Past President of the National Association of Jazz Educators (Texas Unit), Southwest Coordinator for the National Association of Jazz Educators, Past President of Texas Music Administrators Conference, Past President of the Austin Area of Retired Teachers Association, Retired Teachers Association Benefits Committee, Texas Music Adjudicators Association Committee on Standards of Adjudication and Performance Practices, Two terms as chairman of UIL Region XII, Co-Author of TEA Stage Band Guide, and Chairman of the Austin Middle School Research Committee.
He and his wife Blanche, who is an accomplished keyboardist and vocalist, have had several professional music groups over the past 30 years. One group was the “Professors of Dixieland” which performed for two Texas governors on several occasions, Austin’s mayor, the Austin city council, and several legislative bodies. John has directed the 18-piece jazz ensemble “Swingtime” for the past seven years.
John says he is very fortunate to have a wonderful wife and family of 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. And, to have had the opportunity to serve young people in the profession he loves—MUSIC, has made him feel very fortunate indeed.