The Tone Road Ramblers ride on

By Gus Bode

Long-time friends keep playing after more than 30 years

Teacher, prizewinner, performer, band member, composer. Any of those adjectives would accurately describe the members of the Tone Road Ramblers.

The Ramblers, a musical group that performs jazz and improvisational pieces – along with anything in-between, will perform at 7:30 Friday in Shryock Auditorium. Tickets are $7 general admission, $3 for senior citizen and children and free for SIUC students with a valid ID.


The performance follows a weeklong residency where band members held workshops, seminars and demonstrations, and taught classes for School of Music students. In addition, the band performed Tuesday for Carbondale young Carbondale students.

The band currently has seven full members. The newest addition is Phoebe Legere, who writes compositional texts for the band and improvises vocals. The group’s instrumental make-up includes flutist John Fonville, saxophonist Jim Staley, trumpeter Ray Sasaki, percussionist Steve Butters and trombonist Morgan Powell. Dorothy Martirano also plays violin for the group from time to time.

Powell said the band believes strongly in the music it performs – both written and improvised. Because of this belief, the members share their music with everyone and even converse with the audiences during performances, according to a press statement.

“TRR is more than a band.” Powell said. “We are the best of friends who are committed to making music that is experimental, beautiful and fun to perform.”

The group met at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where all the members either taught or pursued advanced music degrees, according to Powell. He said the university’s world-renowned musical advances led to the Rambler’s formation in the late 1970s.

The band gave its first performance at Roulette, an experimental music venue, in New York City in 1981. Since then, the Rambler’s have had concerts in numerous places such as New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago and at several festivals. They have also recorded two LPs and seven CDs over the past 25 years.

Although the Ramblers have performed all around the country, this is not their first stop at the University. One of the main reasons is that Mandat is a professor of music and a distinguished SIUC lecturer.


Mandat’s band affiliation began when he was asked to fill in for the original clarinetist during a tour about 15 years ago. One thing led to another, and now he performs regularly with the Ramblers.

Mandat said the name Tone Road Ramblers comes from the music of American Composer Charles Ives, who wrote two pieces called “Tone Roads.” The rambler part signifies the group’s exploration of sound and musical paths, he said.

Although the band will improvise some pieces for the concert, Mandat said it’s members Powell and Fonville wrote most of the music they will perform. He said most of the Rambler’s music is written by or for the band.

Because the group is scattered around the country at their respective professions, they can only come together a few times a year to practice for the concerts and tours. Along with completing one guest residency, this year at SIUC, band members also meet at an artist’s colony, the Ragsdale Foundation in Chicago, for a two-week summer session.

Legere said that during the summer session, the band can “let our musical hair down.” She said the artists write music and hold improvisation sessions, in addition to practicing.

“After the audience goes home to bed, after the prizes are put away, after the school is dark and locked, there is a secret music that can be heard,” she said. “It is the blood music in our hearts.”

Leger described the Rambler’s music as wild, free and all about love.

“Our compositions are made of this inner music, with absolutely no apologies to anyone,” she said. “People talk a lot about corporations, and war and peace, and money, but the Rambler’s music is about something else; it’s about the love that never dies.”