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The Music of Life

8/9/17

Shea Stanfield
Arts Columnist

“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own; you know what you know,
And you will be the one who’ll decide where to go.”
Dr. Seuss

Seuss’s rhyme is delightfully whimsical, loaded with good advice, and illustrates life as adventurous and full of possibilities for the growing child. After all, creativity, intelligence, risk-taking, enormous talent, and a “can do” attitude are the foundation blocks for local artist Suzanne Lansford. She has built her diverse and successful career as an electrical engineer, as well as a violin aficionado from focused and creative modeling of her childhood.

Suzanne and her sister Christine started life in San Pedro, California, moving to rural Klamath Falls, Oregon while still toddlers. There, the family grew vegetables in a backyard garden, while dad went to college, worked the ranch, and played piano at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor to support his family. Mom pitched in, canning fruits and vegetables, baking bread in a wood cook stove, and attended to the girls, as well as her own college studies. Suzanne remembers moving to Vancouver, Washington during elementary school; both of her parents completed their degrees at this time, dad in biology, biochemistry, and psychology and mom in radiology. In 1981, the family relocated to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area job market where the girls would finish school at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale and go on to attend Arizona State University, in Tempe. 

Looking back on those days, Suzanne remembers both Mom and Dad, although focused on the sciences, played the piano and read music. Mom favored the classical tunes, and Dad leaned toward classic jazz. Suzanne and her sister learned to play the piano and sing in harmony before they could read a word in a book. Suzanne added in the violin, taking lessons from 5-13 years old in the Suzuki method, while Christine became accomplished on the upright bass and Bari-sax. The sound track to their childhood consisted of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Duke Ellington, Credence Clearwater Revival, Hank Williams, Judy Collins, and a number of others who would establish an eclectic musical taste in the two growing girls.

The family lived across from the Arizona Biltmore Hotel where Big Tiny Little played in the Aztec Lounge with his quartet. Tiny had been Lawrence Welk’s ragtime piano player in the 1950s before Jo Ann Castle. Suzanne remembers, “His quartet played every old tune and jazz standard you could name at the time.” Tiny hired Suzanne, who was still in high school, to do a country western showcase on Friday and Saturday nights. By that time, she was accomplished on her violin, turned fiddle, for the country gigs. Suzanne considers this opportunity a “priceless” internship, where she was challenged to master the art of playing by ear.

In 1990, Suzanne completed her Electrical Engineering Degree at Arizona State and started off on her “main career” with the nuclear power plant design firm of Sargent & Lundy. This would take her to Chicago, where she found engineering work and a smorgasbord of musical talent. There, Suzanne met jazz violinist Johnny Frigo, who welcomed artists to sit in with his duo at Toulouse on the Park, which she occasionally did. She also played with Alfonso Ponticelli’s gypsy jazz group, Swing Gitan, and with Steve Gibons’s eclectic acoustic-electric, Third Coast String Quartet. In 1999, tired of all the traveling associated with a nuclear consulting career, Suzanne relocated to Florida. She accepted a position with a civil engineering firm, where she worked in transportation. This move provided a chance for her to put down roots in a community. While in Florida, Suzanne found bluegrass was the “flavor” of choice. She switched up her style to match local preferences, so well in fact, that she won the Yee Haw Junction Bluegrass Fiddle Championship twice during her time there. 

Back to Phoenix in 2011, Suzanne is now growing her engineering business, REDD Inc. As she will say, “If anyone needs a photometric study, roadway lighting or traffic signal design, they should check out my company at www.redd-inc.com.” In her “out of the business world” time, Suzanne is playing in the trio, We3, with Nicole Pesce (piano) and Renee Patrick (vocals). Renee’s father George Grant was a member of the Ink Spots. As a result, We3 is a blend of Ink Spots, Latin, Classic Jazz, Pop, and much more. For concert schedule information, to hire We3 for your party, fundraiser, or special occasion, visit their web site at www.we3music.com.

Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield at flowingquill@yahoo.com.