Frederick Fox


Fred was born January 17, 1931 in Detroit, Michigan to Frederick Alfred Fox, Sr., a WWI vet and a carpenter, and Otha Esther Smith, a homemaker from rural Arkansas. His ancestry is English, Scots-Irish and German. In his junior high school there was a good band program and he learned to play saxophone. By the age of 17, he was taking private lessons from Larry Teal, and playing in pick-up dance hall jazz bands around Detroit. (He himself couldn’t dance, and said he found it silly, but his children caught him more than once watching American Bandstand on TV). Soon he began traveling the Midwest with touring bands, writing interludes and intros and arranging. His first love was jazz, but after studying composition at Wayne State and later at Indiana University (under Bernard Heiden), his musical interests largely shifted to contemporary music in the Western classical tradition, with a heavy jazz inflection. By 1959 he had earned his doctorate in music from I.U. In 1974, after two academic jobs in small colleges, a Ford Foundation post in DC, and ten years at Cal State Hayward (now California State University, East Bay), he was invited back to teach at I.U., where he spent the rest of his career. One of his first major undertakings was the founding of the Indiana University New Music Ensemble, serving as its first director. Throughout his career, Fred always considered himself a “composer who teaches,” rather than a “teacher who composes.” But he did take teaching seriously, becoming quite close with many of his students over the years. He also dutifully served as chairman of the composition department for thirteen years. His office at the Music School was notable for its collection of what he called “true American tacky”: a boxing nun toy, a velvet portrait of Elvis, an obscene light switch, etc. He retired in 1997. Fred considered B?la Bartok to be the main influence on his compositional style and structure, followed closely by Anton Webern, then by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Debussy (in that order). Bebop, especially the melodic-driven sound of Charlie Parker, was also a major influence. He composed more than a hundred pieces, everything from solos and chamber music to major orchestral works. His spirit, his personality, and the very specific tension of his being are very much alive in his music, for those who care to listen.Frederick Alfred Fox, Jr., a composer and former professor of music at the Indiana University Jacob School of Music, died peacefully at home in his sleep on August 24th, 2011. For many years he had been in declining health, which he endured with humor and without complaint. He was 80. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Ramona, who cared for him with the doggedness and fierce attention that only love can bring, and by three sons Brian, Eric (Cheryl), and Curtis (Kathryn). His two granddaughters (Nora and Zanny) are too young to have known him in his prime, when his explosive laughter would shake the house and scare the cats, but they will eventually internalize the stories about a no-nonsense sacrilegious man whose presence loomed very large for his immediate family as well as for friends, colleagues and former students (several of whom turned out to be all three).


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