Many in the Quad Cities theater and jazz communities are mourning the death of Steve Trainor, from cancer, over the holiday weekend.

The 76-year-old former TV broadcaster, actor and Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Society board president died at his Hampton home on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 3145 31st Ave., Rock Island, and from 3-5 p.m., a social will be held at Trimble Pointe, 701 12th St., Moline.

Steve Trainor and his wife, Gaye Dunn.

One friend, Kaitlin Meade, posted on Trainor’s Facebook page:

“Steve, you will be forever missed and loved by everyone you encountered. You always told the most detailed stories, gave the best knowledgeable advice, and had a heart of gold. Your love for Gaye is what all women dream of. Literally a lifetime of unconditional love and friendship.”

Less than a month before his passing, Trainor was honored Aug. 4, at the 52nd-annual Bix Jazz Festival at the Rhythm City Casino Event Center, Davenport, with the annual Bix Lives Award. Since 2007, the Bix Lives award has been given to people who exemplify what it means to keep Bix’s legacy alive, said Nate Kraft, director of the Bix Beiderbecke Museum and World Archives at Common Chord, Davenport.

Steve Trainor raises his 2023 Bix Lives Award at the Bix jazz festival Aug. 4, 2023 at Rhythm City Casino, Davenport.

The criteria include concentrated effort over the years in promoting, preserving and presenting the musical genius of Davenport native Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931); creating a greater understanding of Bix’s contributions to American music culture, and proving to be an advocate for promoting the history of Bix.

Trainor was an active member of the Bix Society for 40 years. From his first job as a ticket taker, to being an ambassador, working with the media, then becoming an announcer, and then the one prepping the other announcers for the festival.

Despite retiring from the Bix Society board in 2021, he was still very actively volunteering at the Society, Kraft said, noting Aug. 4 that “Steve has lived the essence of Bix’s legacy for more than 40 years and we rightfully think that qualifies him for the prestigious Bix Lives honor.”

Bix Museum director Nate Kraft, left, with 2023 Bix Lives award winner Steve Trainor (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“I personally worked with Steve since joining the Bix Museum in 2020 to help bring the Museum and Society closer together by doing programs and events after neither boards doing much for a few years,” Kraft recalled on Tuesday morning.

“We bounced ideas around and he was one of the people who helped me get acclimated to the Bix community when I first started. In the last two years we worked together behind the scenes on some projects regarding the Bix home. While I can’t talk much on that, the results of that work should come to fruition soon,” he said.

“Steve was someone who I could say truly lived Bix even if he’d want to disagree or say his contributions are small compared to others before him,” Kraft said. “He was adamant about presenting Bix and his legacy in the proper way. He wanted everyone to not only enjoy their experience but to become hooked on Bix and bring their friends to the next show.

Nate Kraft, left, Trainor and Bix Jazz Society board member James Beiderbecke at the 2020 Bix Birthday Bash hosted by the Catfish Jazz Society. It was the last in-person jazz concert before the COVUD closures.

“I can fondly remember one of the first Bix Society sponsored concerts I helped out while representing the museum where Steve walks up to me during a song and mentions that the band isn’t playing enough Trad Jazz to his liking and that I’ll be really impressed by the music when I experience my first Bix Fest,” he said.

“He wasn’t shy about voicing displeasure if the music was not up to snuff or someone said something objectionable about Bix,” Kraft said. “That’s really how Steve was and the Bix community definitely needs more Steves.” 

Decades of dedication

Trainor was chosen for the Bix Lives award for his decades of volunteering for the Bix Society and annual jazz festival, including serving as an announcer, marketing the society, and serving as board member since 2013 and president (2016-2021).

“Since taking the job as president, over 33 jazz festivals across the country have failed,” Kraft said. “The festival was in dire financial shape when he took over. During his tenure, he was instrumental in bringing the Bix fest out of debt while presenting a first-class event, including seeing it through to its 50th year in 2021.

Trainor, right, with James Beiderbecke and Nate Kraft at the Bix family home on Davenport’s Grand Avenue, doing some yard work around to help clean it up before winter in 2021.

“This is a wonderful, heartwarming surprise,” Trainor said to the audience in receiving the honor. “All I wanted to do was for the festival to run smoothly and all of you to have a good evening.”

“There is so much work to be done throughout the year, that my wife started to call this festival my mistress,” he said. “She wasn’t far wrong. Many times, she had to wait to do things she wanted, until my Bix business was completed.”

Trainor volunteered for the Bix Society since 1980, treasuring the free admission for volunteers. “What a deal – I was in heaven,” he said. “You have all these single women, all this beer, conga lines. It’s a three-day party.”

“But we do it for you, we do it for Bix, and for trad jazz,” he said.

Jim Petersen served on the society board with Trainor for all of the time he was there.

“As I told him at the end of his term as president, I didn’t always agree with him and sometimes I was a little miffed, but always got through it as I knew full well that his heart was always in the right place,” Petersen said this week.

“I’m so happy that we were able to honor him in the short time he had left with us. He was a great guy, great sense of humor and always had his thumb on the details of running the festival,” he said. “He will be greatly missed.”

Beiderbecke memories

James Beiderbecke of Moline, member of the Bix Jazz Society board and descendant of Bix’s family, treasured his time with Trainor and credited his impact on theater and the jazz society.

He and his wife Gaye hosted the Bix board for a get together at their house in 2018.

“It was my first time there and everything was lovely. Over the years, I’ve had the fortune to house sit for them up in Hampton on the river several times,” Beiderbecke said by e-mail. “They would always bring back neat items from their travels. Their most recent vacation being Africa. Steve picked out a chess board for me with hand-carved stone pieces.”

Trainor taught him “TOMA” regarding Bix – “aka Top Of Mind Awareness,” Beiderbecke wrote. “Meaning, keep Bix in the forefront with frequent posts even outside of annual festival time. 

Josh Duffee’s Graystone Monarchs performing at the 2023 Bix Jazz Festival at the Rhythm City Casino Event Center (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Steve really was a great role model for myself. His commitment to Bix Jazz Society and the local art scene is commendable,” he said. “It is truly a shame to lose him so suddenly. I believe his legacy will live on in many ways, and through the people who knew him.”

Beiderbecke noted this past Apil’s performance he attended of “Oliver” at Moline’s Spotlight Theatre, where Trainor played the kindly Mr. Brownlow.

“There was an electrical issue during one of Steve’s scenes resulting in a complete blackout. No lights, no mics, nothing,” Beiderbecke recalled. “Steve, being the true professional he was, kept delivering his lines and continued the scene until an official came to notify the crowd.

Trainor (second from left) performing in Spotlight Theatre’s production of “Oliver!” in April 2023.

“As they say, ‘the show must go on!’ and Steve went above and beyond with his role,” he said. “It shows through his endeavors with various organizations.”

Playcrafters tribute

Playcrafters Barn Theatre in Moline memorialized him on Facebook Monday:

Trainor was involved with the theater as a patron, volunteer, and as an actor on stage, most recently as Inspector Craddock in the 2022 production of “A Murder Is Announced.”

Trainor was in Playcrafters Barn Theatre’s 2022 production of “A Murder Is Announced.”

“He was always willing to help around the Barn in any way needed, whether that be cleaning before the opening of a show, or donating his time to help with the success of our benefits,” Playcrafters wrote. “Steve’s heart was true and his dedication to the arts was undeniable. Our hearts go out to Steve’s wife, Gaye, and all of his family and friends.”

The cast and crew of the last production, “Witness for the Prosecution,” honored Trainor by dedicating their closing performance Sept. 4 to him.