Smitty: Joining me at Jazz Monthly.Com is one of the premiere sax players in the business. He’s just released a great new record and let me tell ya, it is saturated with some funky grooves and some very nice rhythms. You’ve got to hear this excellent new record. It is called True. Here to talk about this great record and the upcoming year for his career, please welcome the incredible Mr. Steve Cole. Steve, how ya doin’, man?
Steve Cole (SC): I’m great. How are you doing?
Smitty: I’m wonderful. Man, I agree with you on one thing.
Smitty: This is your best stuff, man. I mean, you got all up in this one. (Both laugh.)
SC: Well, I always try to get up in it.
Smitty: Yeah, man! (Both laugh.) It’s all about that funky groove, you know?
SC: I missed it a little bit, but it’s never left me, you know what I mean?
SC: I mean, I grew up in Chicago and came up playing in Chicago, so the funk has always kind of been in my bag of tricks all the time, but with this new record I really kinda wanted to go back to my roots and start to revisit all those great sounds and influences and artists that really inspired me to start getting into this business in the first place. So I’m thrilled with this new record.
Smitty: Yes indeed, man. You’ve got some great players on here. I mean I was asking myself, I said “You know? How did he manage to corner these guys to do this record?” I mean, because you’ve got a nice lineup.
SC: Yeah, the good news is….and the thing that I’ve been really lucky about is….that so many of the finest world class players that are around happen to be friends of mine, and when I make records and when I perform, it’s really kind of first and foremost with me to play music with my friends, with people that I really enjoy being with, because that kind of camaraderie really comes through in the music, so it just so happens that I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of really good friends who happen to be phenomenal musicians. I mean, Ricky Peterson is on this record playing Hammond B3. He’s touring the world with John Mayer right now. And Khari Parker is my Chicago neighbor and he’s just recorded Joss Stone’s new record. And Richard Patterson used to play with Miles Davis and he lives down the street. So Chicago’s a great place and all my friends live around here. Well, Ricky lives in Minneapolis. But it’s great to have these guys around and it’s a privilege to be able to work with them.
Smitty: Yeah, and you’ve got Mr. Dave Hiltebrand, my boy.
SC: Yup, yup, big Dave, yup.
Smitty: Yeah, and is he a great bass player or what?
SC: He’s a great everything player. This guy amazes me. He writes great music, he’s a great bass player, he’s a very accomplished pianist, and he’s a phenomenal guitar player.
SC: Yeah, I mean, I don’t even know what else he plays. I mean, you could probably put something in front of him and he’d be like “Oh yeah, I know how to play this.”
Smitty: (Laughs.) And I know….and please elaborate because I’d like to hear a little bit more about capturing the whole Chicago sound….
Smitty: But you did it right because, hey, you went right to the root and got some Chicago players.
SC: Right, absolutely, and the whole concept of this record kind of evolved with the record. I didn’t start out and say “You know, I wanna really kinda make a Chicago sound or a Chicago tribute.” But what I really did was kind of dig deep into where I came from and the influences that I had and the artists that really truly inspired me and helped me develop, and coming up as a musician in Chicago, you’re on the bandstand at any given time with an incredible diversity of musicians, both ethnically and demographically, age, so all of these amazing sounds from Chaka Khan and Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Harris and Ramsey Lewis, I mean, I’ve been on the bandstand in Chicago playing clubs with people who played with these people and who recorded with these people. And they were influenced by them and affected by them and then they kinda pass on that influence to other musicians, so as I kinda dug deep into where I came from, what really kinda came out of me was kind of how I’d been affected by so many of these great musicians like Chaka and Eddie Harris and Ramsey and Quincy Jones that came from my hometown.
Smitty: Yeah, man. And it’s a wonderful mix of music too. And I gotta tell you, my favorite is….man, I’m lovin’ “Curtis.”
SC: All right! (Laughs.)
Smitty: Whoo! That’s a hip tune. You know what I like about that tune is it’s old school and it’s cool school. You know, it’s just got that real nice laid back but funky upbeat kind of tempo together. It’s a nice blend. I love that track.
SC: Yeah, that was interesting how that tune evolved. Again, it didn’t start out as a Curtis Mayfield kind of tribute. It just kinda started out as….I kinda just heard that sound. I wanted to get back to that warm blanket of the sound that comes from that groove with the horns and the interesting kind of arrangement with the flute and the trumpet and saxophone, and that nice kind of wall of sound that we heard so much in that time period.
SC: And as the tune was evolving, I’m just like “Wow, I know where this is coming from.”
Smitty: Yeah, and I could feel that….I’m visualizing sitting in a Chicago club.
Smitty: And you’ve got these cats just doing their thing. I had that whole feeling, that whole vibe.
SC: Great, yeah, well, mission accomplished, then. (Both laugh.)
Smitty: And, man, I love Jeff Golub’s playing on this one.
SC: Oh, man!
Smitty: Now, did he get up….
SC: Now, that was a score. Okay? That was a major score for me and it happened kinda by accident, okay? I was in New York City and I was going there to record with this other guitar player who happened to play quite a bit on the record. His name is Bernd Schoenhart. I didn’t really know Bernd very well. I’d met him before, he’d played on one of my other records, but he was really kind of a guy that my friend David Mann uses on a lot of his productions, and I had only the highest respect for his playing, so I was like, yeah, I was really looking forward to working with him, but he wasn’t really like my hookup. It was kinda Dave’s guy.
SC: So I flew into New York and I got there a day early and I was hanging out with Jeff at his place, and the next morning I’m supposed to go and record with Bernd and Dave, and Jeff was going out to his house in the Hamptons. So what happened was that Dave, his wife all of a sudden decided that she was gonna give birth to twins that day.
SC: So Dave’s like “The session’s off. I gotta go and be a daddy.”
Smitty: (Laughs.) And rightly so.
SC: So Jeff, at this point, is already kinda on his way to the Hamptons to hang out with his family ‘cause they’re already out there on Long Island.
Smitty: That’s funny.
SC: So he says to me….‘cause I’m about to head to LaGuardia and head home….he’s like “Man, hang out. I’m gonna turn around, I’m gonna come back to the place.” You know, he has a studio in his place.
SC: And he’s going “I got all my good guitars at home. Why don’t we just open up a bottle of wine and hang out and record music all night?”