Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

RON SURACE: Press

Chicago pianist composer Surace ... if he were based in NY, LA or Paris he'd be known the world'round. He plays and writes in the mainstream vein al la Bud Powell, Horace Parlan, Red Garland, Dave Brubeck - but free of "Classic" baggage. That's to say, his music is free of cliches, and Surace and Co. don't sound like they're trying to turn back the clock to some idealized past jazz era. His compositions have infectious melodies and swing with genial assurance -they're never mere frameworks for "blowing." His tunes average around the 5-minute mark-there's no wasted or gratuitous playing. Everyone makes every note COUNT. Schneider's tenor is a joy: his sound comes out of the neglected tenor masters Hank Mobley and Don Byas. The band plays as a unit, a band-this isn't just a thrown-together session. "Nearly Blue" is mainstream jazz of the highest order, proof-positive that jazz doesn't necessarily have to be "out" to be creative. Fiev and 1/2 stars, and well-worth seeking out.
Mark Keresman - Jazz review/New York
...Ron Surace can take credit for one of the handsomest albums to come out of Chicago in 1998 (Nearly Blue CD). Surace's effortless mastery of classic jazz piano...His right hand spins lilting treble lines that, like an adventurous kite, spring skyward but remain tied to their anchor. ...(his) left-hand chords: splendidly balanced, cleanly voiced clusters...extend to the right hand for linterludes of block-chord imporvising that recall Errol Garner. Garner has certainly played a role in the development of Surace's piano conception, but so have a number of other piano giants, including Bill Evans, Bud Powell, and Dave Brubeck.
Neil Tesser - The Playboy Guide to Jazz 1998
You never know from where the next best-kept-secret is going to emerge. A veteran of many bands -- Surace announced himself as a clever pianist and writer with "The New Cool" (1997). ...he maximizes Eric Schneider's classic tenor sound without resorting to throwback formula, scoring with its idosyncratic structures and subtleties of style.
Lloyd Sachs - Chicago Sun Times
...his (Surace) music is so buoyant and frisky in borrowing from styles past, it leaves you powerless to resist it. It's difficult to remember a piano trio that defied expectations more breezily than the one teaming him with trumpeter Ryan Shultz, bassist Marlene Rosenberg and drummer Rusty Jones ("The New Cool"CD). And when Ryan Shultz;s invaluable bass trumpet is added to the mix, Surace's coloristic streak flowers.
Lloyd Sachs - Chicago Sun Times
Surace and his quartet create many memorable moments on this delightful album ("New Cool" CD). An outstanding player, Surace's acoustic piano virtuosity and eloquence shine through as he creatively switches tempo and expresses his rich romanticism.
Surace couldn't have chosen a better team for his broadly diverse, impressionistic rhythmic interplay...Surace's touch emotionally enriches each selection with grandeur.
Nancy Ann Lee - Midwest Jazz
This CD collection ("Trio City 2; The Return of the Trio") is classic with each performance perfect in every way. Topnotch from beginning to end.
For those who like entertaining trio jazz, this collection is perfect for the mone library, Public Library, and as a gift for a friend. Highly recommended.
Lee Prosser - JazzReview.com
CD Title: "Trio City" 2001. Ron Surace is one of the finest pianists in contemporary jazz, and his work on this DCD accompanied by his fellow musicians Tatsu Aoki on bass and Dave Pavkovic on drums makes this 14 song collection an outstanding entry for the year 2001. This is one flawless collection, each performance a perfect listening experience.
Tatsu Aoki is at his finest on bass as is Dave Pavkovic on drums. Ron Surace's classic finger work on the keys is as always a great adventure in listening enjoyment as his song and style performances create memorable sound tones and colors.
Trio City is a fine, fine CD, filled to the brim with classic performances by three contemporary jazz greats. This is a five-star winner.
A fine modern mainstream straight-ahead jazz pianist based in Chicago. Ron surace explores a dozen standards and two of his originals on this trio set. Surace, who is ably backed by the very versatile bassist Tatsu Aoki and drummer Dave Pavkovic, has his own fresh chord voicings and is not shy to play songs at unexpected tempos (including starting and ending "Deed I Do" surprisingly slow) when he feels that it suits the piece. Overall, his playing is both conventional and personal, Surace having developed his own sound and approach out of the tradition. He makes most of these standards, even the overplayed ones such as "Caravan" and "Skylark," sound fresh, taking an occasional number as a solo showcase. Fans of jazz piano trios will enjoy this date.
Chicago pianist and educator Ron Surace makes a sharp change in direction from his two previous releases for the Southport label. His first CDs were devoted entirely to his own compositions; here, ge goes with classic standards with just one origina. With his rococo styling Surace finds his antecedents in Art Tatum and Erroll Garner. Among his contemporaries, he recalls the apporach of longtime Washington D. C. mainstay Johnny Eaton as he gives each cut a thorough, thoughtful going over. One has to listen closely to catch the melody as he plays a snippet, then embellishes on what he has just teased the listener with. "Everything I Have Is Yours" shows how the pianist can shift stylistic gears as he starts off without benefit of his two cohorts--at least, they can't be heard over Surace's runs and arpeggios--before sequeing into a more traditional piano trio apporach slipping in between Tatsu Aoki's bass and Dave Pavkovic's on point rim shots. The debt to Garner is especially apparent on "I Only Have Eyes for You," especially in the right-hand strumming of the chords. Surace, on occasion, likes to engage in playful introductions camouflaging the rhythmic and harmonic invention that's to follow, such as on a waltzing "Suddenly." Surace makes a nod toward the blues on "Sweet Lorraine." This tune gets a more stripped-down-to-the-essentials rendition than other tunes on the play list, again with major participation by Aoki as he and the piano trade chords. If you're in need of a new jazz piano trio CD, and even if you're not, this one deserves highest consideration. Recommended. Kudos to Southport for continuing to record the best of what Chicago has to offer in the way of jazz artistry.
Another educator and inspired jazz talent is Chicago pianist Ron Surace. Practicing in the trio-style of one time Chicagoan Nat King Cole, Surace is a gentle, lyrical pianist. On "Trio City," he takes the listener on a pleasant journey through 13 standards and one original composition. Each track falls gracefully under his elegant treatment, but three selections are particularly refined. "Trio's" mystical treatment of "Star Eyes" is both refreshing and a stylistic departure from the remainder of this album. Surace runs a swinging refrain through "Speak Low," and he splices snappy blues chords into "Come Rain Or Come Shine." Of great value to the leader is the able talent of "out" Bassist Tatsu Aoki and multi-dimensional drummer Dave Pavkovic. Though they play it straight, there is a descrete charge to this album, and it must stem from pairing these three distinct artists.
Michael Wojcik - Illinois Entertainer: Editorial Archives
The straightahead piano trio that Ron Surace brings to the forum keeps the swing tradition alive while imparting a personal share of the music's qualities.
As Tatsu Aoki's soul-stirring bass introduces the group's exotic interpretation of "Caravan," you get the feeling that this familiar face is about to receive a facelift. Sure enough, drummer Dave Pavkovic adds a light syncopated texture that boldly ushers in Surace's unique impression of this classic piece with wire brushes. The pianist rebounds up and down with authority. His furious tirade contrasts with the drummers'light touch. Together, they create an exotic impression that swings hard.
"Cabin in the Sky" swings gently with a sbutle passion. Much of the session drifts gently in like manner, with walking bass, wallpaper drums, and a forceful pianist. Surace delivers a powerful statement on "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," as his trio interprets this standard with a unique temperament. this standard and several other trio interpretations give the session a hearty quality.
"Sister Sadie" becons as a solo piano conversation, steeped in the blues and tempered with a virtuositic hand, Surace gives this on a shot in the arm. "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" and "My Foolish Heart," on the other hand, get a warm comforting hand. Solo piano interprets these two pieces lovingly, and with passion. Similarly, "Here and Now" closes the session with a lone balladeer's heartfelt cries. The pianist, working alone, leaves his audience with a dream to build upon.
Jim Santella - WEB JAZZ REVIEW OF TRIO CITY TWO:The Return Of The Trio
The Ron Surace Jazz Trio with Tatsu Aoki and Dave Pavkovic called "Trio City" were placed on the "Jazz Top 20" List by station WBEZ and in 2002 WGLT "TOP 25 Jazz CD".
News release -- - NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
Ron and Ann Surace at the Illinois Music Teachers 2015 State Conference
Music Institute of Chicago piano facutly Ron and Ann Surace
On Friday, November 6 Ron and Ann Surace will perform their original 13 movement "Pinocchio Suite" at the Illinois Music Teacher 2015 State Conference at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Entitled "Bringing Pinocchio to life, from story to song - to keyboard" (using program music to inspire student creativity), the performance will surely inspire.We had a few moments to ask a few more questions about this original work and how the project came about.

RON: After setting the Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a chamber opera, I reviewed other texts for possible use…I was attracted to Pinocchio because at one level, [it’s] a brilliant and entertaining children’s book, but at a deeper level it is a morality play about human nature and the inclination to ignore wise council and make bad choices. So I turned my musical theater interest to the Pinocchio story in 2008 as a possible chamber opera setting using a small orchestra and a few singers performing multiple roles. I finally settled on two acoustic pianos as the orchestra. In the past, I’ve either written strictly jazz style works or—on the other hand—classical pieces without reference to jazz at all. However, with this new work, I felt that my firsthand experience with American jazz and Classical Western music should unabashedly merge and become one.

How did you use music to bring this story to life?
RON: Actually the original “Pinocchio” text inspired the creation of the music. I found that “words-to-music” became more or less the act of writing down the music suggested by the text. Songs seemed to leap off the page along with the text.