Original composition from WIU music professor featured in new documentary

By JENNA SKARLUPKA, News Reporter

MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS 3) — Many productions have been halted by COVID-19, but one Western Illinois University professor is listed in the credits of a new documentary.

John Cooper, WIU’s director of jazz studies, contributed his original composition to the “People, Places, and Power” film series from the Illinois Humanities Council, which debuted its latest addition Oct. 15 on YouTube. The series focuses on economic disparities in different regions across Illinois, and Cooper said it tries to promote understanding.

“It’s easy when you’re isolated to point a finger at somebody else,” Cooper said. “So the documentary kind of looks at both sides and tries to develop a conversation.”

Cooper’s piece, titled “The Governor of Forgottonia,” pays homage to former WIU student, Vietnam War veteran, and economic equality advocate Neal Gamm. Cooper said the piece was composed separately from the documentary, when his colleagues wanted to work on a quintet project based around COVID-19 restrictions.

“This particular film producer happened upon it and contacted me to see if they could use it, and the subject was just so close to what they were doing, so he thought it would make a good addition to his project,” Cooper said.

Cooper said his colleagues and students in WIU jazz studies were all supportive of his work.

“We’re a pretty close-knit family in the jazz area, you know, our students are out there all the time, and sharing things that they’ve done…and we all kind of watch each other’s stuff,” Cooper said.

Cooper said new Illinois legislation may result if viewers empathize with those in different economic situations.

“The conversation is what helps and empathy,” Cooper said. “If you can empathize with their struggles, and they can empathize with yours, maybe there’s a way to find legislation that helps everybody.”

To see the full documentary, visit the Illinois Humanities YouTube page and search “Fulton County Edition.”

NOTE: John Cooper and his WIU Jazz Studies colleagues perform the original composition “The Governor of Forgottonia,” featured in a new documentary. (Photo and videos provided by John Cooper)