Jack Oatts graduated from Radcliffe High School and received a bachelor of arts degree in commerce and finance from Coe College and a bachelor and master of music education degrees from Drake University. After performing in the U.S. Navy Band in England during World War II, he began his teaching career at Earlham High School in 1955. Recognizing the need for his students to perform and understand jazz music. Jack approached the administration with the idea of starting a high school jazz band. The administration declined to support the request with their interpretation of the word "JAZZ", so Jack named his ensemble the Earlham Stage Band and jazz education had its beginning. It did not take long for many area and regional instrumental music programs to adopt stage bands into their band curriculum. The Earlham Stage Band received constant media coverage from the Des Moines Register, KENT-TV, and the Bill Riley Talent Scouts.
Jack relocated to Jefferson, Iowa in 1966 and started one of the first jazz festivals that invited jazz artists such as Clark Terry, Bud Shank, Urbie Green, Joe Farrell, Marvin Stamm, Bill Chase, and Arnie Lawrence as guest soloists. Clark Terry said the Jefferson Jazz Band was the first school jazz band he performed with and "they played just like the professionals." The Jefferson Jazz Band received many honors under Jack's direction including 1st place at the 1981 Iowa Jazz Championships and guest performing band at the prestigious Wichita Jazz Festival.
Jack has served as state president of the National Association of Jazz Educators, state chairman of the National Bandmasters Association, and president of the South Central District of IBA. He is also a member of the American Federation of Musicians and continues to perform with the Jack Oatts Quartet.