Jim Oatts


Jim Oatts grew up in Earlham and Jefferson IA where he studied with his best teacher, father Jack Oatts. Jim received his BME from Metropolitan State College in Denver, CO. Graduate studies were at the University of Iowa and Vander Cook School of Music, Chicago, Il.  His 27-year career teaching in Iowa schools included Carlisle High School, University of Iowa, East Greene Schools, Southwestern Community College, Grand View College, Southeast Polk Schools, and Simpson College.

Jim was an active clinician and adjudicator at various Jazz festivals and competitions throughout the Midwest. Jazz camps kept him busy during summers and included Simpson, Southwestern Community College, Stan Kenton, Jim Widner, and Clark Terry International Jazz Camps.

Jim was director of the Des Moines Big Band from 1987 through 2015, regularly performing Monday nights in Des Moines area.  Jim began inviting Iowa High School and Junior High bands to play during their breaks, which gave students invaluable experience performing outside of their normal construct. This successful partnership between the DSMBB and Iowa students continues to this day.

As the band’s leader Jim produced five CD and three Iowa Public TV specials, and the band was selected to perform at the International Association of Jazz Educators National Conference. During the years of Monday night performances, a who’s who of international jazz artists performed with the band.

Jim has toured and/or recorded with Stan Kenton, Chase, Machito Latin Jazz Orchestra, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Woody Herman, Clark Terry Big Band, Kenton Legacy Orchestra, and Wilson Pickett. He’s performed with Dizzy Gillespie, John Faddis, Terry Gibbs, Bob Mintzer, Doc Severinsen, Bobby Shew, Snooky Young, Toots Thieleman, and Dave Sanborn. Other artists include Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Four Tops, Anita O’Dey, Joe Williams, Temptations, Henry Mancini, Franke Valli, and Aretha Franklin.

In 2008, Jim was inducted into the Des Moines Community Hall of Fame. He’s been inducted into the Iowa Rock’ in Roll Hall of Fame three times as well as receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Oatts Family has been a cornerstone of Iowa Jazz since 1955 when Jim’s father, Jack Oatts, started the first high school jazz band (stage band) in Earlham, IA. Jim and his wife Lori have triplet sons that are carrying out the family tradition.