By Diane C. Taylor
If you want to hear some really great Dixieland jazz, you won’t want to miss the River Road Ramblers, an energetic sextet that will perform Thursday, April 13, at 6 p.m. at the Oro Valley Marketplace.
The group began in 2007, originator John Prokop explained. “I was invited to play at the funeral of a fellow Shriner. I had a group for a different kind of music, but his daughter wanted Dixieland jazz, so I put together a group.” The band takes its name from the street near Prokop’s home.
Around 2012 the River Road Ramblers joined forces with the “Under the Bridge” Band. In the process, the group acquired the original books and music of Lu Watters, a trumpeter and band-leader who led the West Coast revival of Dixieland music, to add to its large collection of traditional New Orleans-style music.
The current group has six members: Richard Cook on trombone, Mike Blommer on cornet, Zack Brennan on clarinet, Doug O’Brien on banjo and vocals, John Prokop on tuba, and Bob Kruse on drums. Because all of the group members play in a variety of bands, guitarist Steve Nelson will substitute for Doug O’Brien at the upcoming event.
For most of the musicians, making music has been a sideline, not a regular job. That said, most play in multiple musical groups.
Trombonist Richard Cook serves as the musical director of the group. He leads the rehearsals and is the front man at performances, introducing the music and musicians. When not making music, he works in the healthcare field.
Mike Blommer, who plays cornet, is retired from Raytheon and plays in several groups and ensembles. The cornet, Prokop explained, is similar to the trumpet but has a more compact shape and mellower tone quality, which made it popular for Dixieland bands.
Clarinetist Zack Brennan works at Safeway but has a degree in music with emphasis in saxophone performance from the University of Arizona. He is a prominent saxophone soloist who performs with the Tucson Concert Band, the Santa Cruz Wind Quartet and the Civic Orchestra of Tucson, among others.
John Prokop, the group’s organizer and tuba player, is a retired U.S. Forest Service manager and a University of Arizona graduate. He also has organized and plays with a variety of other groups, including the Bouncing Czechs, a group popular for Oktoberfest events.
Substitute musician Steve Nelson, on guitar, is a retired University of Arizona scientist who specialized in aquaculture, ecology and marine biology. He’s a member of the Desert Bluegrass Association, as well.
Last, but not least, is Drummer Bob Kruse, also a University of Arizona alumnus and a recent Raytheon retiree. He doubles as a member of Prokop’s Bouncing Czechs.
“All the people love to play and are great performers,” Prokop said. They perform mostly around Tucson, though they’ve participated a couple of times in Arizona Classic Jazz Society events in Chandler. For more, check out www.riverroadramblers.homestead.com.
The Town of Oro Valley and the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance are sponsoring the April 13 event.
River Road Ramblers:
Dixieland is here!