Orfield's New Jam

sax star aims high with cable TV music show

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Sue Orfield
Sue Orfield

The latest program at Chippewa Valley Community Television is called The Sue Orfield Show, but it might just as well be called Sue Orfield Can Play With Anybody.

The saxophone queen’s career already demonstrates a remarkable amount of diversity: She tours the world playing jazz with the Tiptons Sax Quartet, and locally she fronts an eponymous jazz band as well as a more acoustically inclined quartet, AcoustiHoo, while also playing rock, blues, and jazz with a variety of duos and trios.

“I didn’t want to pigeonhole at all. I knew I wanted to go from pop to country to rap to classical to stuff that isn’t definable. – saxophonist Sue Orfield, about the musical collaborations on her TV show

The new program, which recently premiered on CTV, ups the ante on her collaborative resume by placing Orfield on stage with a different Chippewa Valley musical act – from indie rockers to singer-songwriters – each episode. The performances are interspersed with interviews between Orfield and her guests, who so far have included The Michael Rambo Project, Greg Gilbertson, Eddie Beavers, the Mike Malone Trio, and Softly, Dear. The show officially launches at 8pm Saturday, May 3, with the Gilbertson episode; new episodes will premier at the same time on the first Saturday of each month.

“It’s an interesting and brand-new adventure for me,” Orfield explains enthusiastically. Rehearsals with the guests are slim to nonexistent: Before a recent Friday evening recording session with The Michael Rambo Project, for example, Orfield did her “homework” by listening to the band’s most recently album and jamming with them for a few minutes during the sound check.

Nonetheless, the seasoned jazzwoman makes it look easy: She stepped on stage for five of eight songs played by Rambo and his band, expertly weaving in and out of Rambo’s funky, blue-eyed soul tunes with a masterful lick here and a full-blown solo there. “I just don’t know why we haven’t played together before this show,” Rambo remarked to the studio audience. “It’s been awesome.”

The series is the brainchild of Donna Berry, CTV’s development director and an Orfield fan. Berry remembers being impressed by a series of shows Orfield did a few years ago at the now-defunct Red Parrot, during which the saxophonist made “unexpected but wonderful” music with collaborators from a wide range of genres. Orfield was immediately receptive to the idea, and she he quickly drew up a list of about 50 musicians she’d like to collaborate with.

Indie rockers Softly, Dear (left) recorded an episode of The Sue Orfield Show recently at the Community Television studio in Eau Claire. The show brings on diverse musicians for performances and interviews with saxophonist Orfield (top).
Indie rockers Softly, Dear (above) recorded an episode of The Sue Orfield Show recently
at the Community Television studio in Eau Claire. The show brings on diverse musicians
for performances and interviews with saxophonist Orfield (top).

“At the very top of the agenda for me was diversification,” Orfield explains. “I didn’t want to pigeonhole at all. I knew I wanted to go from pop to country to rap to classical to stuff that isn’t definable.”

Orfield’s flexibility makes the show unique, says Dick Purves, executive director of CTV. Purves hopes Orfield’s ability to perform with a wide range of collaborators helps viewers broaden their own musical horizons. “For the most part she just sort of listens in and gets (her guest musicians’) vibe, and then kicks in and sounds like they’ve been playing together for 20 years,” Purves says. “It’s just amazing to watch.”

While such by-the-seat-of-the-pants collaboration might frighten lesser musicians, that’s not the part of the show making Orfield nervous: She admits that interviewing guests and talking in front of the cameras is a challenge. “The fact that there’s a bunch of cameras and I’m supposed to talk to the cameras is disconcerting,” she says. “The cameras don’t listen to you and nod back.” Yet Orfield is evidently up to the challenge.

The program is a more complex production than is typical for CTV, Eau Claire’s public access cable TV center. The show has a small (but enthusiastic) studio audience, is recorded with four cameras, and benefits from the skills of Pine Hollow Audio proprietor Evan Middlesworth, who provides a CD-quality audio mix. This extra production effort, combined with the musical talent of Orfield and her guests, has CTV dreaming big: They hope they can market the program to other public access or public TV channels in the Upper Midwest. They plan to launch a crowdfunding effort via Indiegogo.com in the near future. (UPDATE: The Indiegogo.com campaign to raise $9,000 for the show can be found by following this link.)

“The goals are to bring the enormous musical talent in the Chippewa Valley in all its variety to a wider audience,” says Berry, CTV’s development director.

The Sue Orfield Show will air at 8pm Saturdays on CTV. Tune to channel 993 or 994 if you’ve got a Charter digital box or to 98.13 or 98.14 if you’re watching cable on a TV with a digital tuner. The show will also be simulcast on the radio at 101.9FM and on the Web at cvctv.org, where archived episodes can be streamed at www.cvctv.org/video. A new episode will premier the first Saturday of each month. To learn more, visit facebook.com/thesostv.

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