Jack Body was born in Te Aroha and studied at Auckland University, with further study in Cologne and at the Institute of Sonology, Utrecht in the Netherlands. During 1976-77 he was a guest lecturer at the Akademi Musik Indonesia, Yogyakarta, and then lectured at the Victoria University's School of Music (now the NZ School of Music) from 1980 until his retirement from teaching in 2010.
His compositions include solo and chamber music, orchestral music, music-theatre, music for dance and film as well as electroacoustic compositions. His music has been performed and broadcast widely in both New Zealand and overseas, and he has worked with the renowned Kronos Quartet on four separate projects. A fascination with the music and cultures of Asia, particularly Indonesia, has had a strong influence on his music. He has also worked in experimental photography and computer-controlled sound-image installations, having received commissions from several public galleries.
Early in his career Jack Body became a household name as the composer of the television soap-opera Close to Home, and for his Carol to Saint Stephan, which became a set work for study in schools throughout the country. His association with the renowned Kronos Quartet (for whom he has composed four works) has also enhanced his reputation.
He has been commissioned by the NZ String Quartet, the NZTrio, the Auckland Philharmonia, the NZ Symphony Orchestra, and many other groups, both nationally and internationally. Jack Body's opera Alley, based on the life of Rewi Alley, was premiered to wide acclaim at the 1998 NZ International Festival of the Arts, and his Songs and Dances of Desire, a tribute to the iconic New Zealand Maori drag queen Carmen Rupe, was a highlight of the 2011 Auckland Festival. He has frequently been a featured guest composer: his music was presented at the 2003 Other Minds Festival in San Francisco, and in 2004 he was honoured by a Composer Portrait concert in the NZ International Festival. In 2004 he was commissioned by the Atlas Ensemble (resident ensemble of the Holland Festival), and was a guest of the Encuentros 2004 International Festival in Buenos Aires. In 2011 he was a guest artist at the Aichi University of Arts, Nagoya, Japan.
As an ethnomusicologist Jack Body has documented Indonesian music in recordings such as Music for Sale: Street musicians of Yogyakarta and Jemblung: Sung Narrative Traditions. He also compiled and edited a set of four CDs, South of the Clouds, rare field recordings of Chinese ethnomusicologist Zhang Xingrong. As manager of Gamelan Padhang Moncar, he has mentored the creation of new repertoire for Javanese gamelan and other instruments, collaborating with numerous New Zealand composers as well as Indonesian artists such as Nyoman Sukerta, Joko Susilo, Budi Putra, Wayan Yudane, Rafiloza bin Rafaii, and kroncong diva Waldjinah.
Other cross-cultural projects include O Cambodia, a collaboration with three other composers in new works performed by the NZTrio and three traditional Cambodian musicians, premiered at the 2011 Auckland Festival and, in 2014, toured to Cambodia and China. In 2013 Jack curated and contributed to a programme of new works by Chinese and New Zealand composers played by the NZ String Quartet and the Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra (Beijing). This programme was premiered in Beijing in December 2013, and in March 2014 presented at the Wellington International Festival and toured through three other cities by Chamber Music New Zealand.
Throughout his career Jack Body has been a passionate advocate for New Zealand music, as a concert and festival organiser (beginning with the Sonic Circus in Wellington in the 1960s), as a publisher of scores of New Zealand music as editor of Waiteata Music Press from 1980 until 2012, and as the producer of over 20 CDs of music by New Zealand composers. He has curated three Asia Pacific Festivals (1984, 1982, 2007), as well as festivals of New Zealand music in Amsterdam, Santa Cruz California, and Beijing.
Body has received three prizes at the Bourges Competition for Electroacoustic Music (most recently in 2008), his recording Pulse was voted 2002 Classical CD of the Year, and his sound track (with John Gibson) for Vincent Ward's Rain of the Children won the Best NZ Film score in 2009. In 2001 received an ONZM for his services to music, education and photography, and in 2004 was honoured by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand as an arts laureate.
Jack Body lectured in the School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington (now the NZ School of Music) from 1980 until his retirement from teaching in 2010.