Ron Surace treats the piano with respect, and it responds in kind, issuing lines that lilt and chords that balance almost perfectly at their centers. Surace has a light, assured touch, and he creates classic solos that feature spinning treble lines, block-chord interludes, imaginative leaps, and a constructive use of space–often as not on his own compositions, which range from tender ballads to equally effective niche numbers like waltzes and sambas. So where has he been all your life? Down south: he’s a native Ohioan who got his master’s degree at Northwestern and then spent two decades directing the jazz studies program at Jacksonville State University in Alabama before moving to the Chicago area. Last year he released The New Cool (Southport), an album with a lot more savvy and nuance than its thudding title would indicate. Surace has an enduring affinity for the music of Erroll Garner–whose style he mimics with affection and purpose on a couple of tunes from his album–but he doesn’t stop there. In fact, one can reasonably complain that the dead-on references to such piano icons as Bill Evans, Bud Powell, and Dave Brubeck threaten to get in the way of Surace. On the other hand, he’s chosen his mentors well, and I won’t deny the art required to thread these pianistic colors into one fabric. Saturday, 6 PM, Pete Miller’s Steak House, 1557 Sherman, Evanston; 847-328-0399.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/B.P. Sparrow.