Featured story on the Jim Szana Trio that appeared in the May, 2006 edition of Arts Alive magazine.
Are South Dakota audiences more receptive to jazz than in the past?
Yes. They have the opportunity to listen to it more than ever. Public Radio Jazz Nightly, cable music stations, automobile satellite stations, and most importantly, “The Weather Channel” make instrumental jazz a part of most South Dakotan’s lives whether they know it or not.
What unique musical styles, arrangements or musical personalities characterize your group and set it apart from others?
For whatever reason, the bossa nova sound of Jobim has always fascinated me. [PIANO-JIM] I like the happy samba sound and the chromatic structure that is Jobim. In my late teens and early twenties Ramsey Lewis made a real impression on me and I liked the way he played Beatles and other popular groups in his own style. More recently I have come to appreciate Dave Brubeck who is clearly in a league of his own, his chromatic chord patterns can be very complex. Because I never played in any band until 1998, I already had my “style” and that leaks out in virtually every song we play.
Lonnie, the fret-less electric bassist, has discovered a new freedom playing jazz. His background is rock and country, but his musical ear often harmonizes with the melody and whatever else I am doing on the piano. He gets back to the basement enough to secure the structure of the song, but whenever he can he goes wandering around.
Ron Woodburn, the drummer in the Jim Szana Trio, is really a trombonist. As such, his emphasis is more on the song and how it is being played in contrast with most percussionists who focus more on the rhythm and timing. He will mimic the melody and accents more than a classic drummer would.
The blending of three non-traditional and untrained musicians sets us apart from most legitimate groups.
Why do you play jazz?
Jazz is improvisation. I make a lot of mistakes and when you try and correct your mistakes on the fly you can come up with some interesting scenarios. Some of my best riffs have occurred under the duress of being totally lost. Besides, who wants to play anything the same way every time? [which makes sequencers nearly impossible for me because I can’t play anything the same way twice]
Another answer would be, “I have to because I can’t do it the way it was written.”
Are young people receptive to and appreciative of jazz? Does jazz have a future in South Dakota?
Yes. The business of music has been hijacked from musicians and been taken over by promoters, advertisers and big business. But people like music. They like songs they know. They like songs they can hum. They like melody and harmony along with rhythm. When young people tire of the hype, they often appreciate music that goes somewhere and comes around again.
What keeps jazz alive in South Dakota and the US?
Like it or not, jazz has the reputation of being music the of the educated. Classical music was once seen as the music of the educated. Jazz is a form of classical music in that most classical numbers are variations of an original theme. There are more educated people in South Dakota than ever before, and when you couple that with the “rugged individualist” attitude that we have here, I believe that this combination will foster the growth of intelligent music. Besides, the population is growing and that means the 2-5% of jazz lovers will continue to grow.
What jazz artists should young people (or all South Dakotan’s) be listening to?
The ones they like! Go to the buffet and try them out. Not everyone likes salad or beans. Where can you go to the jazz buffet? I’d say that SD Public Radio Jazz Nightly host Jim Clark serves as fine a jazz buffet as you can find anywhere. Do I like all the music he serves? No. But he serves it all. Besides, he plays our stuff.
What communities or venues in which you have played stand out in your memory?
I remember them all. There is nothing like live music. It is magical for both the listener and the performer. I just wish there were more opportunities to play and hear live music.
Any ramblings about jazz in South Dakota will be appreciated. We’d like this story to be told through jazz musicians, rather than festival organizers, teachers or music critics.
I’m afraid that musicians are going the way of the buffalo. If people spent 10% of the time playing a musical instrument that they do in front of a computer or TV we would have a state of musical geniuses. They only way to become excellent at anything is to do it over and over. Probably things would be different if instead of 4 losing seasons and a promotion to school administrator, the rules were changed to favor a segment of educators whose emphasis valued a more non-competitive self-development of excellence, which is the very definition of a real musician.