All that jazz
The local jazz scene drew two Tulsa transplants to our fair city.
Longtime jazz lovers Jeanine and Jim Rhea are volunteers with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Jim and Jeanine Rhea fell in love over jazz.
Now, they actively promote the uniquely American musical style as volunteers with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
But it all began those decades ago when Jeanine spotted Jim on the dance floor their freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Jazz records were spinning.
“When I first saw him,” she recalls, “he was dancing with my sorority sister. He was a good dancer. I looked to whomever was standing next to me and said, ‘Well, this has to stop. He’s going to be dancing with me.’ And he did promise to dance with me for the rest of my life.”
Both had loved jazz before high school. In fact, Jim was able to pay the couple’s way through school with his big band and as a pianist in a jazz combo. The two have continually sought out live jazz music wherever they have been.
After transferring to and graduating from the University of Nebraska, Jim and Jeanine moved several times before ending up in Stillwater. There, Jim worked in the radio, TV and film department at Oklahoma State University and Jeanine taught in the management department.
Occasionally traveling to Tulsa for live shows, the couple attended their first Jazz Hall event in 2003 as the guests of a friend on its board of trustees.
After Jeanine retired from teaching, the Rheas relocated again in 2004, choosing to reside in Tulsa largely because of the Jazz Hall and the city’s “amazing musicians and talent,” Jim says. Jim’s friend suggested Jim join the board, on which he has served since 2004.
As a director, Jim has been involved in countless decisions affecting the Tulsa jazz scene.
“(My experience on the board) has been fascinating,” he says. “To see all of the changes (to) the Jazz Hall in moving from the Greenwood Cultural Center, where it had been since it started, to (the Tulsa Union Depot) in 2007 as a part of Vision 2025 — there were a lot of changes in the transition ... and always changes in musicians.”
Professionally Jim and Jeanine work as partners in Greenwood Consulting, a downtown Tulsa firm.
Together they work with a wide range of organizations, but it always comes back to jazz. When they’re traveling for business, the couple always tries to catch a live show. Each city they visit provides them a taste of unfamiliar musicians and a new spin on the music they love.
“When (jazz musicians) feed off each other, there is a synergetic event that takes place,” Jeanine says. “When you’ve missed a live event, you’ve just missed it — it’s gone into thin air. We try to help people understand that they need to be there.”
And so, the Rheas encourage others to experience the synergy for themselves, letting Tulsans know when jazz musicians are playing locally and where.
Jim compiles a newsletter that highlights jazz shows at local venues — the Jazz Hall, restaurants and other concert halls — and reaches approximately 5,000 jazz fans. The newsletter is posted on websites such as www.tulsajazz.wordpress.com and www.sites.google.com/site/tulsajazzsociety.
“When music is spread through a community,” Jeanine says, “we really need to be out there to support that. It creates a whole different culture for our city.”
“Maybe less than 30 percent of people in Tulsa know that the Jazz Hall of Fame is here in Tulsa,” Jim adds. “We work on letting people know that it’s here and it’s a great place to spend a Sunday or a Tuesday evening.”