At the height of the swing era, there was no official Coe College jazz ensemble. Instead, the swing bands of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and ROTC dominated the Coe jazz scene until the end of the 1960s. Coe's first curricular jazz band was established in 1969 by Jerry Owen. Under his leadership, the jazz band toured many U.S. locations, visited Japan, and made Coe's first jazz recording for commercial release. The jazz program had frequent guest soloists (Rich Matteson, Dan Haerle '61, Bill Watrous, and others) and invited professional bands to campus (including Count Basie, Woody Herman, and Maynard Ferguson).
Dr. Paul Smoker became director of the jazz band in 1977 and under his direction, the band represented Coe at the Iowa Bandmasters Association convention. In 1990, Dr. William Carson replaced Dr. Smoker who left Coe to pursue a career as a jazz trumpet soloist. During Carson's tenure, the group undertook tours to New Orleans, Hawaii, and the West Coast. In 2001, Steve Shanley assumed directorship of the department's jazz offerings. Since that time, Mr. Shanley and the Touring Jazz Ensemble have performed in England, Scotland (including a performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that was webcast throughout the world), Hawaii, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. The tradition of excellent jazz at Coe continues.