On a recent trip to Wausau, Menomonie-based jazz musician Sue Orfield found herself in a bookstore staring at something very odd indeed: A small image of her face on a book cover.
“It was a really neat life moment to see that and understand it’s a real deal,” Orfield said. “I saw it on the book shelf and I was giddy like a little grade-schooler.”
Orfield is one of around 100 jazz musicians with ties to Wisconsin who are featured in a new book on the state’s jazz history titled “Wisconsin Riffs: Jazz Profiles from the Heartland” by Ripon College music professor Kurt Dietrich. Orfield is one of six musicians whose photo appears on the cover.
To be featured in the same book as Wisconsin jazz greats such as Bunny Berigan, Woody Herman and Les Paul is an honor Orfield said she is not sure she deserves.
“There are so many amazing musicians around here,” Orfield said.
Her biography is in the “Outliers” chapter, which also includes biographies on Steve Zens and Ron Keezer, UW-Eau Claire professor, both of Chippewa Falls, UW-Eau Claire jazz professor Bob Baca and Michael Janisch of Ellsworth.
Other names with Chippewa Valley ties pop up in the book, including: Eau Claire native and jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer; UW-Eau Claire and Shell Lake Arts Center student Lyle Mayes; Menomonie’s Ethan Iverson; Tom Luer of Chippewa Falls; UW-Eau Claire jazz professor Dominic Spera, who grew the university’s jazz program into what it is today; and Woody Mankowski, who grew up in Rice Lake and Menomonie.
Dietrich will give a presentation and reading from “Wisconsin Riffs” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St.
Though the book centers mostly on artists from the Milwaukee and Madison regions of the state, Deitrich said UW-Eau Claire’s jazz program and the Shell Lake Arts Center’s summer jazz camps were integral to many musicians featured in the book.
Deitrich himself was familiar with UW-Eau Claire’s jazz program because he was a member of Lawrence University in Appleton’s jazz program in the 1970s, and the two were considered “friendly rivals.”
“Starting way back then, UW-Eau Claire had such a strong program,” Dietrich said. “That has been just a stellar program, not just in Wisconsin but in the country, for years and years.”
Dietrich has long studied jazz music and history as a professor of music and jazz performer. When he embarked on the journey of documenting the state’s jazz history around eight years ago, he said he had no idea where it would take him.
“It’s not a huge world in Wisconsin, and I figure I’m only two degrees from any jazz musician here,” Deitrich said. “I had no idea how long it was going to take, how big it was going to get.”
The more-than-500-page book doesn’t even cover it all. Deitrich said he had to cut it in order for Wisconsin Historical Society Press to publish it.
Kristin Gilpatrick, WHSP marketing manager, said Dietrich’s book was immediately well-received by the committee who reviews book proposals because of its broad nature and the way the history spanned the entire state.
“We have a very long track record of sharing Wisconsin stories and cultures, and this book is both,” Gilpatrick said. “It really spans the state. I was so impressed by how many talented jazz musicians there are in Wisconsin. Every time I turned a page it was like, ‘oh, wow, I didn’t know that.’”
However, she said the committee struggled with whittling it down to a more manageable number of pages, simply because there was so much history to share.
“Even though this is over 400 pages, it’s still not everyone,” she said. “These stories are examples of musicians in Wisconsin.”
Gilpatrick, who admitted she isn’t familiar with the state’s jazz scene, said she thinks anybody has the opportunity to learn from this book, whether they are huge jazz fans or know very little about the genre.
“Even though I don’t know that much about jazz music, it’s the history of the people that I find so intriguing,” she said. “And yet there’s detail in here that real jazz fans will love too, and things that will surprise them in there.”
When Dietrich brings his story to Eau Claire, he said he’ll focus on musicians with ties to the area so community members see the value of the musicians around them.
“There are people they know that are in this book,” he said. “I hope readers come away with an appreciation of how these musicians got to where they are, and ultimately go out and support them when they’re playing, writing or recording.”
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