"The Rochford Jazz Ensemble proves once and for all that jazz is alive and well in the state of South Dakota! This fine mainstream jazz group consists of Dr. Jim Szana on piano, Clacie Neu (pronounced NYE) on drums, and Lonnie Schumacher on bass. I've featured the music of Rochford Jazz Ensemble many times on my South Dakota Public Radio "Jazz Nightly" show, and my listeners have responded positively and enthusiastically!
The Rochford Jazz Ensemble recorded two excellent CDs last year,(2001) "Swings," and "Interesting Mix," and I played both on my "Jazz Nightly" program. They've given many performances since they formed, including an appearance at the 2002 "Jazz Fest" in Sioux Falls, and at a political rally in 2002 when President George W. Bush arrived in the state.
"Rochford Jazz 3" was recorded in a two day session at Custom Recording Studios in Minneapolis in March 2002. The Rochford jazz gentlemen simply went in the studio and made some great music--a reflection of the work ethic and skill they apply in their jobs away from the jazz world.
And now let's look at the fabulous music they made:
Unchain My Heart is a Ray Charles composition. The group's treatment of it is smooth and elegant, yet it swings. Jim's mastery of the piano is evident in the opening cut.
The trio provides a pensive, moving rendition of Autumn Leaves---an old favorite made popular by pianist Roger Williams. It makes you think of a cool October day in South Dakota with the golden leaves falling and winter not far away.
On The Sunny Side of the Street is a buoyant, bouncy number made famous by Duke Ellington. The group effectively projects the optimism and good feeling of the song, a feeling that the future contains endless possibilities.
Along Comes Mary-The Association was one of the top pop groups of the late 1960's. "Along Comes Mary" was one of their great catchy, irresistible songs...perfect for AM radio (remember when music was featured on the AM airwaves?). There have been very few jazz interpretations of this number, and Jim Clacie, and Lonnie make it swing delightfully!
Just the Way You Are/Dream---Billy Joel's classic was one of the top selling hits of the 1970's."Dream" is one of the great tunes from the Johnny Mercer songbook. This medley effectively communicates a sense of yearning, sadness, and reflection. The group provides a wonderfully understated and nuanced interpretation of these two great songs.
One Note Samba-This song was first done by the bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim in the early 1960's. Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto also made memorable recordings of it. There is something about the melody which suggests summer, the beach, and soft breezes. Clacie adds just the right touch on percussion here.
The country/pop singer Bobbie Gentry recorded ODE TO BILLIE JOE, and it became one of the top selling songs of 1967. It has long since become a classic. The Rochford Jazz Ensemble interprets jazz style the song's haunting and complex melody. Contained in "Billie Joe" is a separate melody, "Listen Here" written by the soul jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris. The blend works well. All told, this is a very distinctive piece of music.
The Bee Gees scored big in the 1970's with the wonderfully harmonic How Deep is Your Love. Jim's sensitive piano work here reminds us again how beautiful and finely constructed the melody is.
The group has an interesting take on John Lennon's Imagine. This song is probably best known for the political and social content of its lyrics rather than its shimmering, dreamy melody. The trio perfectly captures the dream-like, wistful, hopeful, yet profoundly sad mood of the song.
Frank Sinatra and Count Basie recorded Fly Me to the Moon in the 1960s. The group really lets loose with this uptempo number... projecting, like Ol Blue Eyes and the Count did, a feeling of unbridled confidence and optimism. It swings, baby!
Desifinado is another Antonio Carlos Jobim song and was done in a classic 1962 recording by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd. This is one of the great bossa nova songs of all time. Jim's driving piano gives this number a crackling energy and vibrancy. Lonnie keeps it moving with a steady bass line and Clacie's percussion adds the right touch.
The Beatles recorded scores of great songs. One of the prettiest melodies by Lennon and McCartney was 1964's And I Love Her. This was one of the songs which put John and Paul on the map as gifted composers. The Rochford group stays true to the distinctive melody, while adding just the right amount of jazz flavoring.
One, Two, Three is from the Holland, Dozier, Holland Motown songbook. The exuberance and passion of the original recording is translated well here by Jim, Clacie, and Lonnie. You can sit and tap your foot to it...or you can get up and dance!
The Look of Love is one of the finest songs ever written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Dusty Springfield had the original hit in the 1960's and Diana Krall recorded a wonderful version of it in 2001. Bacharach's melody is simply superb, and Jim pays tribute to Bacharach's musical intent by playing beautifully.
House of the Rising Sun is a traditional blues song, and the Ledbelly version and that by the 1960's rock group The Animals are probably the best known. This is the first jazz interpretation I've heard, and the group transforms it into a bold, swinging number. Also included in this rendition are a few bars of Richard Rodgers' "A Few of My Favorite Things"-an interesting musical juxtaposition. After hearing the Rochford jazz gentlemen's fine take on "Rising Sun." I wonder why more jazz artists haven't done it.
This exceptional CD ends with a John Barry song, The Music of Goodbye (from the movie "Out of Africa"). The group's excellent musicianship is on full display, giving this lovely melody both a sensitive touch and yet a sweeping grandeur. Saying goodbye for now, the Rochford Jazz Ensemble keeps us enthralled to the end!
There are a lot of things to like about living and working in South Dakota, and listening to the Rochford Jazz Ensemble is among the best. In addition to being extremely talented and versatile musicians, I must also say that Jim, Clacie, and Lonnie are really nice guys too.
I have no doubt that you will appreciate and value their musical talent as much as I do. The Rochford Jazz Ensemble is a precious artistic and musical asset to this state, and I am honored to be able to tell you a little bit about them.
Enjoy, South Dakota jazz fans!
Jim ("Uncle Jimmo") Clark
Jazz Music Director/"Jazz Nightly" host
South Dakota Public Radio Network
Vermillion, South Dakota
ABOUT ROCHFORD JAZZ----
DRUMS Clacie Neu- born and raised in South Dakota, Clacie presently lives in Rapid City and a cabin at Rochford where the band occasionally practices, and what (or where) the group was named after. He's been hauling the same tired set of drums around forever ("Have you ever seem drums covered in Wooly Mammoth skin?"), playing for an assortment of groups---community theater "pit" bands, rock and country bands, and symphony orchestra, to name some. His rock-steady percussion anchors the band's tempo solidly
PIANO- Dr. Jim Szana (pronounced ZAH na", known simply as Jim to friends) has worked in Pierre and Murdo, SD, going on 25 years now. He has played solo for banquets, receptions, and programs, but usually just as a hobby at home. One of his patients, Chuck Poches, gave Jim the idea to form a trio, because " there is nothing better than piano, bass, and drums". Jim's style, reminiscent of Ramsey Lewis, is the main ingredient of the sound. This group is Jim's first experience with a performing group. To find out more about Jim, go to this site:
Jim Szana was chosen to tour and perform with the 15th Annual SD Acoustic Christmas Concerts in 2003.
BASS Lonnie Schumacher- born, raised, and currently living in Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Lonnie has been playing bass in garages, basements and on stage with all kinds of musical groups since he was 13 ("Thanks Mom & Dad for the Silvertone guitar back in '66"). The original bass player for the Red Willow Band of the mid 70's, he has played most often with rock and country music groups. He finds this 3-piece instrumental music to be as demanding, interesting, challenging as any other, and it also has the advantage of allowing more individual expression.
PHOTOS, MORE PROPEGANDA AT www.rochfordjazz.com
Check out the artist's website:
1. Unchain My Heart
2. Autumn Leaves
3. Sunny Side of the Street
4. Along Comes Mary
5. Just the Way You Are/Dream
6. One Note Samba
7. Ode to Billie Jo
8. How Deep Is Your Love
10. Fly Me to The Moon
12. And I Love Her
13. One, Two, Three
14. The Look Of Love
15. House of the Rising Sun
16. Music of Goodbye