|Ernest James "Jim" Torok was a physicist with more than 40 patents to his name, as well as the leader of a Dixieland jazz band with more than 400 songs in its repertoire. He was a pioneer in the computer industry, with a 30-year career starting in 1960 at the Univac division of the Sperry Corp. A talented musician, he founded one of Minnesota's best known Dixieland bands, the Pig's Eye Jass Band, in 1961, which became a staple at the Minnesota State Fair parade each year. He shared his love of music by mentoring two generations of Dixieland players, including teaching high school students the art of improvisation.
Jim grew up in Corning, NY. He earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Pennsylvania State University and a master's degree in physics from the University of Minnesota, where he also completed Ph.D. courses except for the dissertation. From 1960 to 1989, he worked at Univac in St. Paul, which later became Unisys Corporation. He worked on the magnetic process of computer memory storage, optics technology and solid state light deflectors. He also helped launch two small tech start-ups in the Twin Cities Key Innovations and Integrated Micro Transducer Electronics Corporation.
Outside the research lab, he was conducting other investigations namely into early New Orleans jazz. That meant the toe-tapping music of Kid Ory, Sidney Bechet and King Oliver. He posted a sign at Univac looking for musicians to start a jazz band in 1961 and led that band, with a changing cast of musicians, until October 2016.
Jim loved Dixieland because it allowed musicians to improvise continually, and because it was one of the country's original art forms. Over the years, the Pigs Eye band performed in many Twin Cities clubs and outdoor venues. For the past seven years, it played monthly at the Eagles Club in Minneapolis. Jim played clarinet, soprano saxophone, and trumpet, performed with other local Dixieland bands as well. He taught jazz at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis and Columbia Heights High School, developing a manual on how to teach improvisation jazz to high school students. He also served in the Twin Cities Jazz Society. He was also a lifelong sailor, and a voracious reader of science fiction and history.
"He was one of the key figures in keeping traditional jazz alive in the Twin Cities and Minnesota," said Dick Parker, a band member and retired journalist. His wife Nancy shares that he was a man with a remarkable memory that "recalled facts, figures and statements, in a matter of seconds”.
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of the family and friends of Jim,
the Young Musicians Scholarship has received over $3,000 in donations.