Born in 1967, Steve was raised in Binghamton, New York surrounded by music. Steve's father was an avid blues and jazz record collector. His grandmother was a first rate stride-style jazz pianist, and his grandfather played trumpet and loved big band jazz. As a toddler, Steve was hearing B.B. King, Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters all around the house. When he was four, his father took him to a Muddy Waters performance at Tanglewood; he was enthralled.
At nine, Steve picked trumpet to play in his elementary school band, no doubt under his grandfather's influence. After a year or so, he had to drop trumpet because he got braces. His band director suggested baritone horn (somewhat like a small sousaphone); he took to it immediately and that sparked his love for bass clef instruments. Soon he also picked up tuba to play in the concert band.
The first live jazz Steve heard was a sixth grade school show: no less than Slam Stewart and Frankie Wess! By 14 he wanted to switch from the high school concert band to the stage band in order to play jazz. That meant learning a new instrument—so he taught himself trombone. Once he started playing with the stage band he knew he wanted to become a jazz trombonist. He started listening to classic jazz records and jamming with schoolmates. Within a year, at 15, he and his friends formed a band, the Nova Jazz Quartet, and started playing gigs at a local joint, the Music Box.
Upon graduating in 1985, Steve started looking at music schools around the East, went to University of Hartford and met Jackie McLean. They had an immediate rapport. Jackie brought Steve into his jazz program at the Hartt School of Music, took him under his wing and changed his life.
At the Hartt School, Steve studied with great jazzmen like Jackie Bayard, Hotep Galeta and Nat Reeves. Still in school, he played lots of gigs around Hartford, often teaming up with Brad Meldau on piano. He also got to sit in with great players like Junior Cook, Pepper Adams, Eddie Henderson, Claudio Roditi, Tom Harrell, Houston Person and, of course, Jackie.
As soon as he graduated, Jackie introduced him to Art Blakey. Blakey liked Steve's playing so much he hired him on the spot for the Jazz Messengers. Steve toured with the Messengers to Japan, Europe and both Coasts, made two records, and played with Blakey until he died.
On his own in New York, Steve hooked up a successful quintet with Leon Parker, Brad Meldau and Mark Turner. In 1992, just as the quintet was scattering to other gigs, Jackie called Steve for a record date, Rhythm of the Earth. That was Steve's entry into the Jackie McLean Sextet. He played steadily with the Sextet for the next five years, touring Africa, Japan, Europe and the U.S. At the same time, Steve started teaching alongside his mentor at both the Hartt School and Jackie's foundation, the Artist Collective; Steve has been teaching for both ever since.
In 1997, Steve joined and helped organize the well-known jazz collective, One For All; since then, they've recorded 11 successful CDs and are still touring actively. Steve also joined Chick Corea’s sextet, Origin, and is both performing and recording with them.
The roots of Steve's deep musical relationship with Larry Willis go back almost 20 years. Steve first heard Larry at Bradley’s, the world-famous piano room in New York, during the '80s while he was a student at Hartt; he became an instant fan. Then, in 1989 at the Montreal Jazz Festival, he sat in on a late night jam session with Larry, Don Cherry and Vincent Herring; in his words, "I was humbled by Larry's awesome comping." Later, they started meeting on the road when Larry was touring with Roy Hargrove and Steve was out with Chick Corea. In 2002, trombone legend Slide Hampton revived his World of Trombones band for a recording date in Pittsburgh. When Steve heard Slide had picked Larry as the pianist, he jumped at the chance to join the date. They hit it off musically right from the start of the session—and together laid down a smoking version of Wayne Shorter's "Dolphin Dance" for the CD. On their off hours, they hung out together and listened to the unedited tapes of Larry's great project, Sanctuary (MS 09932) which Larry had just recorded. In those off hours, they decided they wanted to keep on playing together.
A few months later, Larry called Steve for a quintet gig featuring Steve and Slide; they played both New York and Washington. Since then, they've been trading leader positions, playing regularly in each other’s quintets.
This CD is Steve's tenth as leader. He is also on more than seventy recordings as a sideman. In recent years he has worked with jazz icons such as Horace Silver, Cecil Payne, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, Steve Turre, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Peyton and Abraham Burton. He continues to play with Origin and All For One, to lead his own quintet and quartet, and to tour with the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars.
|Alone Together (#10832)|
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