January 6, 1922 – April 29, 2023
Fort Worth, Texas – Fredrick James Milan died peacefully on April 29, 2023, at the age of 101. Born to Fred James Milan and Josephine Rehmann Milan on Jan. 6, 1922 in Clinton, Iowa, Jim lived in Clinton until he joined the Army in December of 1942. Because of his eyesight, he was classified as limited-service, and spent much of his wartime service playing in several different Army bands. Jim had played the trumpet since age 7, and had become an accomplished jazz and big band musician. At the end of the war, he was assigned to his favorite Army band, playing at the Naval Pier in Manhattan for the troop ships returning from Europe after the German surrender.
After the war, Jim was invited by an Army bandmate to join a band playing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, fronted by a young singer, Patti Page. Also while in Tulsa, he played with Leon McAullife and his Western Swing Band, and was featured on several of their recordings. While playing, he enrolled at the University of Tulsa, as did two of his childhood friends. While at Tulsa, he met the beautiful Rosanne Matofsky. They married in June of 1948. Jim accepted a job with Continental Oil Company, which took them first to Ponca City, Oklahoma, and soon to Fort Worth. They made Fort Worth their home, and happily raised their two children there until Rosanne died in 1969. Jim worked for Conoco for 37 years.
While building a career in the oil business, he never left music far behind. Beginning in 1951, he played with all of the premier dance bands in Fort Worth, primarily with Curly Broyles. Another of Jim’s favorite band jobs was the 10 years he played with Lew Gillis in the Fort Worth Stock Show rodeo band. Both Curly and Lew became life-long friends of Jim’s. He often played for events like the Ice Capades or the Miss Texas pageant as well.
In 1972, Jim married his devoted wife of more than 50 years, Karen Mortensen Thompson, blending their families. Together they were very active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. From 1982 to 1986, Jim was Bishop of the Fort Worth 6th Ward, a position that he was honored to hold. In the early 1990’s, they accepted a mission role in Lowell, MA for a year. They also shared their love of music by hosting contestants for the Cliburn Piano Competition, starting in 1992 and continuing for six cycles of the competition. All six of their competitors were from Soviet countries – Romania, Georgia, Armenia, and three from Russia. They followed the careers of their competitors with enthusiasm, and several have visited them in Fort Worth when playing in the area.
In 2009, when he was 87, Karen asked if there were anything that he had not yet done that he hoped to do. He told her of a musician from the 1920’s, Matty Matlock, who had developed a different style of Dixieland jazz, one that Jim had always admired. Spurred by this conversation, Jim sought out some of the original Matlock arrangements. Once a few of the charts were in his hands, it was a short leap to collecting 10 of the most talented musicians in the North Texas area to play them with him. Thus, the Jim Milan Bucket List Jazz Band was born. They began playing first at Live Oak, then at Shipping and Receiving, and most recently at Tulips. The band has developed a large and devoted following who fill the hall every time they play. The fans were especially enthusiastic watching Jim play on his 100th birthday, and then again on his 101st. He played every gig with the same enthusiasm, talent, and joy that he had brought to his music for his entire life.
Jim was a loving and devoted husband and father, a beloved Gramps and a cherished great-grandfather. He was a talented and passionate musician, a life-long golfer, an avid baseball fan, a cornerstone member of his church, but above all he was the absolute apple of his family’s eye. Jim was predeceased by his parents, two sisters, and his wife Rosanne. He is survived by his wife Karen, son Jim Milan and wife Mary, daughter Leslie Johnson and husband Dan, granddaughter Bethany Johnson Dylewski and husband Drew, granddaughter Kimberly Johnson Burt and husband Randy, great-grandchildren Caroline and Kate Dylewski, and Cecelia and Cross Burt, step-son Kevin Thompson and wife Patsy, and step-daughter Elizabeth Thompson and partner Mary Schmidt.
The family wants to thank Heart to Heart Hospice for the loving care they provided in his last weeks. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts be made to the Jim Milan Endowed Jazz Fund at the University of Texas at Arlington, Box 660194, Dallas 75266, or to a charity of choice.