Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine
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Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Soul




"Cut'n'Scratch Review: “The Only Way Out Is In”"

“The Only Way Out Is In”

Radford native Stephanie Rooker has been in New York City for a few years now, working to build her career as a jazz/soul/pop artist. Her first CD, 2008’s “Tellin’ You Right Now,” was a good start for her, both musically and lyrically. At the end of last year, she and her band, The Search Engine, combined to release “The Only Way Out Is In.” The new CD builds on the contemporary jazz themes of “Tellin’ You …” while showing Rooker’s growing lyrical depth.

Musically, it’s pleasant and often funky, with some outstanding young players including her boyfriend/producer/co-writer, Ben Tyree, smashing drummer Lawrence Qualls and Rooker’s sister, Jen Rooker, who delivers nice harmonies.

Guests abound, too — keyboardist John Medeski (Medeski Martin Wood), turntablist DJ Logic, trombonist Roland Barber, beatboxer Chesney Snow and rappers Kalae AllDay and Justice Dilla X get their licks in — their presence adds smartly and tastefully to what Rooker and Tyree have cooked up here.

Lyrically, the disc opens with hard questions. In “What If,” Rooker wonders “What if there’s no rules/And what if there’s no truth/What if all we’re believin’/Is a story that we choose,” then resolves that existential quandary by reminding herself to “Slow down/Look around/And don’t forget/To breathe.”

Rooker, approaching 30, sees a lot to be frustrated about. In “When We Gon’ Care,” she sings that “Bad new is good news/So long as we’re entertained/maintained/constrained/restrained/to where thought is a novelty/and freedom is feigned.”

Rooker’s resonant voice and music leaven the darker moods of such numbers as “I Feel Like” (“Lord, help me remember what I’m fightin’ for”). By the time the band, joined by Medeski on organ, hits the mid-tempo horn funk of “Get Up” and bouncy soul of “Wait In Line,” it feels like a party.

— Tad Dickens - The Roanoke Times

"Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine Find the Groove"

Potently intelligent, pensively psychedelic, soul/funk band Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine’s new album The Only Way Out Is In sneaks up on you. Taken as a whole, it’s a mood piece, but it’s also a slinky dance album. What’s most impressive is how aware Rooker is. With her brooding, sometimes sultry, sometimes wounded contralto voice, her lyrics draw just as deeply from conscious hip-hop as from classic soul and funk. The band behind her plays with jazz chops, but with restraint: her collaborator Ben Tyree on guitar, Mamiko Watanabe on electric piano, Lawrence Qualls on drums, Jahmal Nichols handling most of the bass work, V. Jeffrey Smith on tenor and soprano saxes plus a number of guests including John Medeski on organ on several tracks along with Will Martina (of Burnt Sugar) on cello. The album kicks off auspiciously with What If, an existentialist’s dilemma:

What if there’s no rules
What if there’s no truth
What if all we’re believing is a story that we choose
What if what they told you
Don’t ever come true
Better come up with your own script
To live your life through

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, guitar and organ shifting over a slow, fluid, hip-tugging organic groove, with an aptly apprehensive trombone solo from Roland Barber.

The bouncy third-wave soul of Sellin Ya Soul brings back memories of acts like Sandra St. Victor back in the 90s. “I could be a pretty good plenty o’thangs but none of which could touch just being me and I’m good with that, thank you very much,” Rooker asserts. They follow that with the hypnotic I Feel Like and its dark, goth-tinged bassline: “Lord help me remember what I’m fighting for.” The next track, Play is wickedly catchy indie funk – did these guys used to go see Noxes Pond play shows around town about ten years ago? Weather offers blippy, rainy-day ambience; the big ballad Thank You is a trip back in time to Memphis, contrasting with the minimalist bass pulse of Rise and the lush balminess of the title track.

Rooker goes ballistic and straight to the target with the cinematic cautionary tale When We Gon Care, a furiously potent rant against a laundry list of evils: disinformation by the corporate media, the destruction of the environment by multinational corporations, drug companies inventing phony diseases to sell worthless “cures,” and most of all, apathy. It’s Jello Biafra updated for the teens, with better vocals. They wrap up the album with an instrumental, a James Brown-inspired number and the gospel-infused Wait in Line. Count this as one of the most kick-ass albums to come over the transom here recently. Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine play the big room at the Rockwood on Jan 23 at 8. - Lucid Culture

""expect the unexpected from Stephanie Rooker""

By Katie Frection

Listeners should expect the unexpected from Stephanie Rooker. Tellin You Right Now, a fine first effort from the Brooklyn-based songstress delivers fresh, reggae and blues infused, jazz. No two songs on the record sound the same but its laid-back vibe, as well as Rooker’s smooth voice, flow seamlessly through each track. The result: a highly cohesive, but never boring, album. Rooker experiments lyrically as well, with jovial songs like Fire, Good Day and I Wish You Well, while other tracks delve into questions about love and life.

The album opens with the upbeat title track Tellin You Right Now, a cheerful but super chill song with an unmistakable funk influence. The next two tracks, The Rain Wants to Fall and Good Day, are more subdued as Rooker experiments with added R&B and soul elements. The next track, Fire, is sultry but cheerful with its reggae-heavy beats and Sun Blues, true to its title, has a heavy blues influence and showcases Rooker’s velvety voice more than any other song on the album. A beat-poetry-esque spoken word interlude is unexpected but further adds to the multi-faceted record that Rooker has created.

Moving back into the realm of the lighthearted, Rooker goes more mainstream with the pop influenced I Won’t Go Away before going out on a high note (pun intended) with the super-fun, upbeat and cheerful I Wish YouWell. Overall, Tellin You Right Now is an excellent effort from Stephanie Rooker, a fine album that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone looking to mix it up musically. Even those not typically drawn to jazz should check out the tracks Fire and The Rain Wants to Fall.

"Podcast Interview with Stephanie Rooker, jazz singer"

"Some singers have a way with a phrase or a moment that attracts listeners with instant magnetism.

Stephanie Rooker is in that category.

Everyone’s ear will interpret her differently, but I like the fluid rap style she brings to her style of jazz in one song and the classic bop present in another.

Rooker sings jazz along a metaphorical urban street that borders rap and R&B, while still reflecting the traditional conventions of the genre, including innovation.

She’s a young woman whose bio still talks about what she studied in college, but her new album, The Only Way Out Is In, with her band, Stephanie Rooker and the Search Engine, is a master’s in musical selection and maturity."

In this podcast, Mr. Media's Bob Andelman interviews Rooker about "The Only Way Out is In," finding her voice, the writing process...and jazz. - Mr. Media Interviews

"Review: Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine Release Party"

“It’s all soul music, because it comes from the soul,” was one of vocalist Stephanie Rooker’s departing messages on the night of her release party. From the politically determinant beat boxer Chesney Snow, who was backed by a viola/violin/cello string trio, to Kalae ALLDay’s hip-hop/rock/soul outfit, and the Housing is A Human Right folks who gave a presentation about their collection of stories, Stephanie Rooker and the Search Engine’s album release was a damn-well dazzling celebration of human expression.

Rooker’s repertoire of songs, some channeling Mississippi blues, some channeling emotive rock vixens like Janis Joplin, some others channeling jazz songstresses like Nina Simone, and then the more nuanced of contemporary genre-bending artists like Meshell Ndegeocello, are all authentic expressions of who Rooker truly is. Rooker’s sojourn to Ghana, her formal jazz training, and her reverence for hip-hop are authentic to her experience as a singer/song-writer.

Backed by a funky band of killer musicians, The Search Engine gave the audience an entire track-by-track run through of The Only Way Out Is In. Rooker’s recorded album affixes the jazz tradition of heavy improvisation, with a funky party groove, and thickly emotive blues vocals with a hip-hop sensibility. Kalae and Chesney Snow came to help Rooker on stage for “Sellin Ya Soul” to add that extra dynamism to make up for the absence of DJ Logic and John Medeski who both recorded on the song for the album. What resulted was a flavorful punch of vocal layering. Rooker leading with her subterranean voice, and backup harmonization by Kalae, and Rooker’s sister Jen, Kalae’s rap verse, and Chesney’s vocal percussions.

As for The Search Engine, watching such a diverse ensemble play with such conviction is testament to the how transgressive, yet natural, music can be arranged now in the 21st century with the expansion of possibilities afforded to musicians. There is evidence of progress. Mamiko Watanabe commanded the keys on stage with the dexterity and seriousness of a classically trained musician. Ben Tyree’s sultry string of guitar melodies added a gentle layer to the otherwise heavy groove of the band, woven tightly into Kevin Farrell’s tremendous bass riffs, and Lawrence Quall’s drumming that was played with a fervor strong enough to carry that of all eight other members on stage. V Jeffrey Smith’s switch between sax and flute added the wonderment of the jazz and funk flavors that made The Search Engine’s songs come to life. Mark Williams’ flirtatious trombone blares added a playful back and forth with the vocalists, as well as creating the last level of depth that are responsible for helping to make the band’s songs sound so ripe. Guest cellist Will Martina also graced the stage to help Rooker deliver some contemplative ballads.

The Only Way Out Is In is a beautiful, profound and fun album. Rooker’s and The Search Engine helped articulate for a live audience many of the concepts and feelings that Rooker sought to convey in the recordings. Thematically the album is a celebration of self, and for the release, that’s exactly what Stephanie Rooker did.

Words by Boyuan Gao - The Revivalist

""soul-and blues-crooning wonder""

A lush six-piece band backs this soul- and blues-crooning wonder. - C-Ville: Charlottesville News & Arts

"Stephanie Rooker performs on News 7 Saturday Morning"

She's a New York-based artist with a wide variety of influences ranging from folk to gospel to blues to hip-hop.

This weekend she's back in her native Virginia, performing at FloydFest.

Stephanie Rooker, along with her band, performs on News 7 Saturday Morning.

View her live performance at:
- WDBJ7 Roanoke

""she pulls it off live, and travels with a band of monster players""

"Rooker has a really nice record, "Tellin You Right Now," which you should hear...[and] she pulls it off live, and travels with a band of monster players. Her sister, Jen, did backing vocals, and they had the sisterly blend thing happening." - Tad Dickens - Roanoke Times -

""By the way, she's real good.""

"By the way, she's real good." - Tad Dickens - Roanoke Times -

"Pulaski County native still making music"

PULASKI COUNTY — Pulaski County native Stephanie Rooker will bring her jazz, blues and reggae band as well as her new CD, “Tellin’ You Right Now” to 202 Market in Roanoke on July 25, and on Saturday, July 26, the band will perform at Floyd Fest at 8 p.m.

Rooker has been living and making music in New York for the past four years. Surrounding herself with a band of young maverick musicians from the New York music scene, she has been writing her own music and rearranging jazz standards to the delight of audiences in the New York area.
Rooker “seamlessly blends the colors and textures of jazz, soul and reggae to make each song a unique combination of groove, heart and light” according to the album notes on her new CD, “Tellin’ You Right Now.”
Jen Rooker, Stephanie’s older sister, will be joining the group, singing back up vocals and taking a turn in front of the band.
The Rooker sisters grew up on Claytor Lake in Pulaski County and went to high school in Radford.
Both girls demonstrated their musical gifts early on, singing in church and with local, regional and national honor choirs.
They are the daughters of Greg and Fran Rooker.
Stephanie studied music with Radford University choral director David Castanguay before leaving for Oberlin College where she continued her music studies earning a bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology with a focus on West African music and the Diaspora.
She emerged as a songwriter and performer of folk, blues and jazz and toured briefly as half an acoustic duo with bluegrass guitarist Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers fame.
After moving to New York in 2004, she began studying jazz with Charles Sibirsky of Slope Music in Brooklyn.
She has since performed regularly in New York area venues and at local and regional music festivals.
Stephanie’s Virginia tour will take her to Arlington, Charlottesville, Ashland, Roanoke and Floyd County.
The band will make an appearance on WDBJ’s News 7 “Saturday Morning” on July 26 at 8 a.m. Her music may be sampled at her website and on - The Southwest Times - Pulaski County

"Get Out: Stephanie Rooker"

Don't try to pigeonhole Stephanie Rooker into a particular style of music. The Radford native will disappoint you.

The last time The Roanoke Times wrote at length about Rooker, she was a Radford High School junior who had just been accepted into the National Women's Choir. She got the gig based on an aria she recorded for the 1999 audition.

Flash forward about nine years, and she's a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based singer who performs jazz, blues, reggae, soul and hip-hop. Rooker brings her band and her new CD, "Tellin' You Right Now," to 202 Market on Thursday night.

Music is more than just performance for Rooker, who designed an independent major in ethnomusicology while she was at Oberlin College. That led to four months of study in Ghana, where she did field research and recordings, and produced a CD of traditional tribal music. Soon, she was composing her own music and writing her own lyrics.

"I just got into it and couldn't get out," she said.

Go to this story at [ ] and hear a podcast with Rooker, including songs from her new CD.

- Tad Dickens - Roanoke Times

"Radio Play on NPR Member Station WVTF"

Charlie Perkinson of WVTF's "Jazz Tonight" says of Miss Rooker:

"Very, very much an individualist!" and "a very, very fine vocalist."

"[This recording has] really got that gutsy, down-home feel that everybody's doing their own thing there right in real time."

"This gal really does lend a personal side to everything that she does."

- WVTF 89.1FM

"Rooker Makes First State Tour"

Published: July 17, 2008

Stephanie Rooker is coming home.


The Virginia native will be making her first tour through her home state. Celebrating her first CD. Excited about playing for the first time at Floyd Fest.

Yes, she is blending all those firsts next week, including her first performance in Charlottesville on Wednesday night.

But then Stephanie Rooker knows the art of blending. She has done it in her music. She does it in her life.

Musically, she was influenced by the old Joni Mitchell and singer songwriters playing on her parents’ stereo in Radford. She grew to love hip hop and reggae as a student at Oberlin College. During her travels, she spent four months studying traditional music of Ghana and enjoyed the progressive sounds of New Zealand during a visit to see an old friend. When the young woman finally headed off to make it on her own in New York, she connected with the jazz crowd.

But all of that evolved as she soon blended those influences into her own unique sound … and a brand new CD, “Tellin You Right Now.”

As for life, she also has been inspired by the influence of family. It was the love and generosity of her parents, coupled with the tragic loss of a young bother.

When Stephanie Rooker steps on the stage at Gravity Lounge, Charlottesville will meet one well rounded young woman with a pretty darn interesting band. And, there will a tip jar in the room. Oh, it’s not for Stephanie Rooker. She is going to put it there for folks right here in Charlottesville.

“At each show in Virginia, we are doing tip jars for local brain injury services,” she said. “That is something that I am really excited about.

“The organization we will be shouting out and — upon Gravity Lounge’s approval — collecting donations for is Virginia NeuroCare. This organization provides rehabilitation for men and women in the U.S. military who’ve had brain injuries while serving our country.”

The director and several of soldiers could be be among Wednesday’s concertgoers.

“I haven’t been able to do that as much up here, because I don’t have a lot of contacts in that field,” Rooker said. “But my parents know everybody, so they really helped me to get this together.”

Greg and Fran Rooker have been a supportive voice for those with brain injury and their families.

“My younger brother passed away 11 years ago,” Stephanie Rooker said. “He suffered a brain injury. He was a survivor, but about 14 months after his injury, he suffered an aneurysm and passed away.”

Ten-year-old Jason had been playing with a rope when he accidentally hung himself. The flow of oxygen was cut off to his brain, leaving him unable to walk, talk or eat. He had spent nine of those 14 months in hospitals, several at Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center.

“There were big things for my family to go through, and my parents saw a lot of problems with getting what services he would need and therapies, and insurance companies were really hard to deal with,” she said.

“Brain injury is not really well understood. You can come back from a brain injury from a fall or from a car accident and experience consequences that are not the same with other illnesses. You can have a different personality. You could lack skills that you suddenly needed for your job. It can change your entire life.

“So my folks, in homage to my brother and in their desire to help other people who are going through the same thing that we went through, started a non-profit called the Jason Foundation.”

While Virginia has a Brain Injury Services Inc. with chapters across the state, there was none in southwest Virginia at the time of Jason’s accident. Thanks to the Rookers, there is one now.

“They just did amazing, amazing things with Brain Injury Services and the Jason Foundation,” she said.

Aside from taking on individuals and helping people receive services, they also lobbied for legistation in Richmond and reached out to universities.

“At George Washington University they helped start a program there for training nurses and people who deal with brain injury,” the proud daughter said. “That was one the the first in the country.

“My parents are so amazing. They are inspiring. They have taken an experience that was really traumatic for my family and turned it into a way that they could really help people.

“I’m really happy to help give voice to that issue and try to bring some support and bring some consciousness of it through my music.”

But a proud father seems just as devoted to his daughter who majored in ethnomusicology at Oberlin. Greg Rooker, a former newspaper publisher, was handling a lot of the PR for his daughter’s tour through Virginia, her first after spending five years in Brooklyn. The tour starts in Arlington, then comes to Gravity, Ashland, Roanoke and wraps up at Floyd Fest on July 26.

“Everyone in the band is really bubbly,” Stephanie Rooker said. “We came down for our short trip to Roanoke [after releasing their CD in March], so now we are really stoked to do the whole length of the state.”

Floyd Fest was an added bonus.

“I’ve gone every year,” she said. “They would get me tickets for my birthday, and we would camp out. It was our thing to do every year. Last year I was saying, my band should play Floyd Fest, that would be perfect.”

This year her band was invited to perform on the emerging new artists stage.

“I only missed one year,” she said. “It’s awesome to be going as a performer and not a spectator.”

What better was to blend it all together. And older sister Jen will be coming in from D.C. to sing backup on the Virginia tour.

“I have definitely been influenced by a lot of people and cultures,” said Rooker, who has quit her day gig [dad called her a nanny, but she calls it babysitter] to concentrate on “music, music, music.”

“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I have been blessed.”

Come see for yourself … and you might want to blend a few coins in the tip jar.

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. with Soul Revision, formerly known as Acoustic Groove Trio. Tickets are $10. - The Daily Progress - Charlottesvile, VA


The Only Way Out is In - Dec 2010
Sellin Ya Soul (single) - Oct 2010
Tellin You Right Now - 2008



"Come on get up, stand up – show ‘em what you’re made of,” sings Stephanie Rooker early in the soulful, slow-grooving "Rise.” "What you give is what you get." It's no mere platitude: if there's a recurring theme to Rooker's music – which recalls the cosmic R&B of Erykah Badu, the warm, jazz-referencing neo-soul of Sade and Jill Scott and even the smokiness of prime Joni Mitchell – it's that you get out of life what you put into it. That it's giving of yourself – your time, your talents, your love – that yields the richest reward. "My dad ran a few community newspapers in southwest Virginia, where I grew up," Rooker explains. "When I worked for him, one thing he'd ask me over and over was, 'How is what you're writing offering something to people? How is what you're doing contributing to society?'" These days, Rooker applies that same social awareness to her music, turning out simmering songs that have not just heart and soul, but conscience as well.

For an artist so early in her career, Rooker has already shored up an impressive resume. Since her debut release, Tellin You Right Now, in 2008, she's performed at New York's historic Blue Note, Blues Alley in Washington D.C. and the prestigious Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA. In March of 2010, she was selected to be an artist-in-residence with the John F. Kennedy Center’s esteemed Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program. She's also, in just two years, managed to surround herself with an impressive roster of talent – members of her band, the Search Engine, have shared the stage with Wynton Marsalis, Victor Wooten, Bobby McFerrin, Vikki Winans and Joe Lovano. That she can net such high-profile players is a testament to Rooker's rare talent: a warm, rich, evocative voice and a knack for fully inhabiting her limber soul songs.

Rooker studied Ethnomusicology at Oberlin College, with a special emphasis on the music of West Africa and the Diaspora -- coursework that inspired Rooker to spend four months in Ghana, recording traditional songs of the Ashanti, Dagomba and Ga tribes and studying their music as a means of communal expression. "Being able to see the different ways that music was being harnessed and utilized in these cultures changed my life forever," she says. Rooker also found that her studies in Africa translated directly to her understanding of and appreciation for American R&B and gospel music. "It was by studying the way African music changed through the slave trade – as well as Jim Crow, the Great Migration and the Civil Rights movement – that made me realize what powerful a force music can be, both as an agent for change as well as an expression of a people's collective experience."

That idea – music as a conduit for collective expression and a catalyst for change -- shows up again and again in her second record, The Only Way Out is In. Guitarist Ben Tyree – who's played with everyone from Vernon Reid to Burnt Sugar, the Arkestra Chamber to TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone – produced the album, which boasts appearances from celebrated Bronx turntablist DJ Logic and organist John Medeski -- who plays on five of the album's 12 tracks. The Only Way bears witness to the power of self-discovery as well as the rewards that come from turning your attention outward. " I feel very holistic about it," Rooker says. "A lot of my music is about my personal journey and discovering myself, because if you don’t deal with yourself, you're not going to be much good at helping other people."

On The Only Way Out is In, Rooker nestles this message of personal and societal rehabilitation in an impressive array of styles. "When We Gon' Care" is a tense, slow-building spoken word number that finds her casting a skeptical eye on crumbling 21st century culture, dismantling everything from vapid reality television to a corrupt corporate health care system as the band pitches and rolls behind her. "What If" is smoky neo-soul punctuated by tight, stop-start breakdowns, burbling, Stax-inspired organ and languid, dusky horns. "Rise," with its darting bass line and lithe melody mines a deep, persistent groove. And the title track, with its slow, winding melody and pinpricks of guitar, is a ballad of perseverance and determination, with Rooker singing, "Move on, stay strong, eyes up, ear to the ground – it ain't over ‘til you say it's over."

“I want to be very deliberate about the messages I'm putting out,” Rooker continues. “I always ask myself, 'Is this serving anyone? Is this offering anything to anyone?' In the end, that's the ultimate goal."