Biography

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Started playing drums at 13-years old in Brooklyn junior high school.

Played drums for singers, comedians, dog acts, xylophone/harmonica/violin players, dance teams, jugglers, magicians, rock n’ roll bands, jazz bands, concert bands, symphony orchestras, (anybody who needed a drummer) for many years.

Featured jazz drummer with All American Big Brass Band Tour of Africa, three months, 16 countries, and 30,000 miles, 1964.

Jazz drummer with Bobby Hackett, 1964-1965.

First-time piano studies at age 25 with Lennie Tristano, 1965-1971.

Earned BS in Music Education from Hofstra University (1967), MA in Music Composition from Queens College, CUNY (1971)

Director of Jazz Studies (with Frank Foster), Queens College, CUNY, 1975-76

Stopped playing professionally 1976-1991.

Classical piano lessons at age 40 with Arminda Canteros and Jon Verbalis, 1981

Piano/composer/music director, The Jazz Mentality (Chris Potter, reeds, Ralph Hamperian, bass, Myles Weinstein, drums), 1992-1997.  Two CDs: “Maxwell’s Torment,” “Show Business Is My Life.”

“I Used To Be Anonymous,” The Steve Elmer Trio (Steve Elmer, piano/composer, Hide Tanaka, bass, Shingo Okudaira, drums), CD/MP3, 2006

Tour of Japan, February-March, 2007, The Steve Elmer Trio

“Fire Down Below,” The Steve Elmer Trio, CD/MP3, 2008.

"Jazz Life - Live @ Cleopatra's Needle, NYC, " The Steve Elmer Trio, CD/MP3, 2010

I started playing drums when I was 13-years old. I auditioned for my Brooklyn junior high school band by clapping back rhythms to a school music teacher. I graduated from hands to a pair of drum sticks and took a few lessons from a local drummer who taught me the basic rudiments and how to read drum music—no clefs or notes with pitches, just rhythms. I then tried out for the junior school jazz band by tapping my drumsticks on a school desktop to play the melody of “Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” what I thought the band leader meant when he asked if I knew how to play that tune. I didn’t get the gig.

From then on I played every kind of drumming gig I could get and was out almost every night of the week working with musicians my own age and musicians who had been around for quite some time.

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I didn’t get any more formal musical training but the experience of meeting the variety of musical demands I encountered gave me a solid professional foundation. My first “big” gig right after I graduated from high school was at the Concord Hotel, a popular resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains. I played for magicians, dog acts, trampoline artists, xylophone/harmonica/violin players , dance teams, jugglers, singers, and comedians, and really got a taste of what the music business looked and felt like up close. I got so much of a taste that I applied to and was accepted by Manhattan School of Music where I was able to begin a formal musical education and work toward earning a college degree so that I didn’t have to depend on making a living doing what I was doing at the Concord.

At Manhattan School of Music I learned for bio2the first time in my life how to read notes in the treble and bass clef and how to make a major/minor scale. I also studied drums, mallets, and timpani with a wonderful man named Mo (Morris) Goldenberg. We played xylophone duets together and he made real musical demands on me that I had never dealt with until that point in my life. In the fall of 1964, thanks to Mo Goldenberg’s recommendation, I became the featured “jazz drummer” with the All American Big Brass Band on a three-month, 16-country tour of Africa. The band included the lovely soft-spoken trombonist Benny Morton (from the Count Basie band of the 1930s),Garvin Bushell, a man who played clarinet, oboe, and bassoon on jazz recordings as early as 1928, and Howard Smith, who was our percussionist and who had been the CBS house drummer for the Ed Sullivan show. All three of these guys were my roommates during the trip and each one of them had a big influence on my outlook in one way or another.

Before I left for Africa I had been working with the swinging pianist Pepe Morreale. Pepe had been Carol Channing’s bio3musical director but was now working with his own trio with me on drums and a variety of bass players including Teddy Kotick, Earl May, Sonny Dallas, Al Ferari, and Phil Rosen. When I got back from the Africa tour, Pepe’s trio became the rhythm section for one of the most beautifully lyrical musicians I have ever played with, cornetist Bobby Hackett. I worked with Bobby for two years and have rarely heard such warm, swinging, and loving music since then. Bobby Hackett was a special musician and working with him was a special treat.

At best, making a living in music is a difficult proposition. So after a couple of years I went back to college and managed to earn a BS in Music Education from Hofstra University. While I was at Hofstra I also started piano studies with the brilliant jazz piano teacher Lennie Tristano. I was 25-years old when I took my first formal piano lesson.

I started by playing scales one finger at a time, adding more fingers in various combinations little by little. I also learned how to make chords. I learned how to recognize melodic intervals and the quality of chords. I also learned how to play melodies one hand at a time and with both hands together and to sing along with records, learning solos of the great masters in jazz like Lester Young, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker. All of this was done by ear. There were no method books or written materials other than a series of numbers Lennie used to describe chord voicings. It was an intense and valuable experience and a turning point in my musical life. However, I eventually moved away from the Tristano influence and decided to follow my own instincts and go in a different direction.

In 1969 I was accepted into the Queens College, City University of New York Master’s degree programbio4 for music composition. I was also given a fairly sizeable teaching schedule, teaching courses in music appreciation, jazz history, ear training, and music for elementary education majors. I studied composition with Leo Kraft, a dedicated educator and contemporary composer. In the first year of my studies I had to write a new piece each week, each piece in the style of composers from as early as the 16th century. This meant I had to pour over scores and recordings of composers I had never heard of, digest their musical language, and write a piece reflecting the essence of their music while making it my own. One piece per week for an academic year. It was difficult. In the second year of my studies I wrote an original piece as my Master’s thesis. I wrote this piece by sitting at the piano and picking out one note at a time in combination with other notes until I had completed my “Emily Dickinson Songs for Soprano and Orchestra,” based on 10 poems by the great American poet. It was the last “classical” piece of music I ever wrote. The combination of teaching and studying composition for two years was another turning point in my life.

I received my Master’s degree in 1971 and was invited to return to Queens College as an Assistant bio5Professor in 1973. I taught music appreciation, jazz history, jazz small and big band, music improvisation, keyboard skills, sight singing, and music skills and composition for elementary music teachers. At the end of my first year of teaching at Queens I was asked to develop a four-year curriculum for a four-year program leading to a degree of Bachelor of Jazz Studies. I dove into this challenging assignment relying on much of what I had learned from Lennie Tristano as a guide and designed a jazz studies curriculum that included ear training, jazz theory, jazz harmony, jazz improvisation, jazz composition, jazz arranging, I was very lucky in two ways during this process. The first was that I had full support by the Queens College Department of Music to get this program approved and offered to the public. The second lucky thing that happened was that I was able to convince Frank Foster, the well-known saxophone player-composer/arranger of Count Basie fame, to join me as my colleague to teach in this new and unique program. We advertised, held auditions, selected the first set of students, and were able to teach one year of the curriculum before the program and our jobs were terminated during a massive New York City budget crisis in 1976.

From 1976-1991 I stopped playing music professionally. In 1981, at age 40, I finally took classical piano lessons from Arminda Canteros and Jon Verbalis, starting at the beginning with Czerny and Anna Magdalena Bach, and filling many gaps in my formal musical education. I also held a variety of jobs that I never imagined myself holding. I went to school for and became a free-lance court reporter (stenographer), and I traveled around the world using the keyboard on my court reporting machine to record the testimony of witnesses involved in all kinds of law suits, arbitrations, public hearings, and conferences. While music, my passion, had opened my ears and my heart for many years, court reporting opened my eyes and my mind to the ways of the world and gave me the kind of pragmatic education that I never would have gotten in any formal institution. I was also a union contract negotiator, CEO of a community symphony orchestra, executive director of a professional wind quintet, and managing partner in a training and communications consulting firm.

That all changed when I was playing solo piano at a fund-raising event in and met a young drummer named Myles Weinstein. We got together for a jam session of piano and drums, discovered that we were on the same musical wave length, and decided to put a group together to make some music and see what could come of it. That group evolved into a quartet that we called “The Jazz Mentality” and it proved to be the point-of-departure for the next phase of my life.

I recorded two CDs with “The Jazz Mentality,” featuring Steve Elmer, piano/composer/music director, Chris Potter, soprano/alto/tenor saxophones, Ralph Hamperian, bass, and Myles Weinstein, drums.

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Maxwell’s Torment (VAI Audio, 1992)

 

Show Business Is My Life (Koch Jazz, 1997)

Each received critical acclaim and featured ten of my original compositions as well as familiar jazz standards such as Miles Davis’s “Solar,” Bobby Timmons’s “Dis’ Here,” Charlie Parker’s “Bloomdido,” and Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now.”

In February, 2006 I recorded “I Used To Be Anonymous,”

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I Used To Be Anonymous
with Steve Elmer, piano/composer, Hide Tanaka, bass, and Shingo Okudaira, drums playing nine of my original compositions . The title for this CD came about as follows. A well-known jazz piano player liked the way I played but couldn’t understand why nobody knew who I was. The pianist shared this thoughts with a mutual friend and said to her: “Steve Elmer is the most anonymous piano player in New York.” Listeners enjoyed our music a lot and we received many wonderful reviews. As a result, we were invited to do a three-week, 2,500-mile tour of Japan in February and March of 2007. You can hear samples of “I Used To Be Anonymous,” read about Hide, Shingo, and who my compositions were written for at www.cdbaby.com/cd/steveelmertrio.

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“Fire Down Below,” is our second CD (2008) and again features Steve Elmer, piano/composer, Hide Tanaka, bass, and Shingo Okudaira, drums, playing playing ten of my original compositions, including “Sister Joan,” “Silhouette,” “Constant Lee,” Fire Down Below,” “Lasting Love,” “Delicate Balance,” “Tanaka’s Hideout, “ Big Chief Red Could,” and “Aaronology”. You can find this CD or MP3 download at www.cdbaby.com.

I describe my musical approach as “Classic Jazz Piano: Play the melody, improvise, tell a story, and make it swing .” I also like to write compositions dedicated to people who have inspired me or had an impact on my life. Some my original tunes are: “Blues for Bobby T (for Bobby Timmons), “Easy Mr. B (for Billy Eckstein), “Mr. Kenny D” (for Kenny Dorham), “The Monkwalk” (for Thelonious Monk), The Teddy Wilson Stomp” (for Teddy Wilson), “Autumn Haze” (for Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn), “Dance of the Drackots” (for Bud Powell), and “Mooseman’s Minor Mood” (an autobiographical reference).

I’ve been fortunate to be able to pursue my passion, bio9overcoming many of the obstacles I’ve encountered along the way. I’ve also been lucky enough to have found encouragement and support from family, friends, and total strangers. It has not been an easy road to follow but I’m happy doing what I love best, making music that satisfies my soul.