partial interview with the Camas Post-Record Jan 6, 2013
> how did you get started in music? (how did you get your first guitar? and first piano?) etc.........
My dad was an engineer who taught himself to read piano music so he could play the classics - without learning the names of the notes on the page or the keys on the piano. When I was little I sat on the floor by his feet. He also played Beethoven records in the dark...loudly.
My mom and older sisters always had the radio on. Before "divide and conquer" demographics, pop stations played what was popular across all genres, so after Nat Cole they'd play Gerry & The Pacemakers, and then The Tijuana Brass followed by Puff The Magic Dragon. I miss that format.
I was signed up for piano lessons at age 4, at 8 my folks let me switch to guitar lessons and I became a garage-band rock & roller soon after. I wasn't a good student on either instrument, I didn't do what my teachers told me to do...but I played my guitar everyday and eventually learned songs by ear. Around the time the Beatles "White Album" came out I transferred that method to the piano. A guy named Walker Barton showed me how to improvise piano blues in the key of "C" and I was off & running. At 15 I heard an Oscar Peterson record...I don't have perfect pitch, until then I didn't know anybody played the blues in "F".
>> what do you enjoy about performing in the Portland area ?
Once I turned 21 I could hear the musicians working in the local nightclubs, and I met some great characters. It felt like the Pacific NW was insulated in a good way...when I heard players from Los Angeles or New York I was humbled by their proficiency and their discipline, but I was more inspired by locals like David Friesen, Glen Moore and Jim Pepper who were carving their own approaches. They were writing compositions as unique and beautiful as their playing styles. Those things are still important to me, even though I've spent the last 12 years primarily working as a sideman, playing the standard repertoire known as "The Great American Songbook".
> what have been the musical highlights of your life so far?
I can trace more than a few back to Mt. Hood Community College and my mentor Hal Malcolm. I'm married to one of his students, and he gave me my first job as an instructor (jazz improvisation). Hal's teaching style involved a lot of analogies and metaphors, which fired my imagination - ! Another student there, Paige Baker gave me my first melodica.
Later on I hooked up with Nancy King, an amazing singer whose distaste for promotion has kept her world-wide reputation a bit underground. But we've played all over the US & Canada, and overseas many times. Of all those experiences the most satisfying to me was recording 8 songs, no over-dubs, in the center of one of Europe's best orchestras – The Metropole (Netherlands). The producer, Fritz Bayens was really charged up by my melodica playing and insisted I use it on 4 of the tracks. That may be the first time the instrument has been featured so prominently with a great orchestra. A German label released it as a cd titled "Straight Into Your Heart".
"Skol Brothers" - review
Steve Christofferson excels at one of the most valuable, but not the most glamorous, jobs in music: accompanying singers. He plays piano with exemplary depth and warmth, and creates his signature sound by doubling on melodica, which he makes a surprisingly poignant tool for improvisation as well as for lead lines. You can hear him around town regularly, most often serving as both harmonic foundation and lyrical foil for the great, idiosyncratic Nancy King. But Christofferson has other skills, which he puts to good use with Skol Brothers, a group that brings together several other unassumingly excellent Portland-area musicians on contemporary-jazz ground that's smooth in execution but solid in substance.
Skol Brothers is an outlet for Christofferson the composer, highlighting his lovely, liquid melodic sense in a supple ensemble sound that recalls the accessibility of the Pat Metheny Group. These are much more than mere blowing vehicles; Christofferson and the other players get their say improvisationally, but the solos always sound fully integrated into the structure and narrative flow of the compositions.
At the core of the musical brotherhood here are bassist Tom Wakeling and drummer Jeff Cumpston, who give the music a confident, comfortable feel that sounds relaxed whether it's doing a lazy-day glide on "Mississippi" (reminiscent of Bill Frisell's tender jazz Americana), driving to the energetic peak of "El Paso Expreso" or getting in the mood for the pulchritudinous blues of "Full Figured." For the band's guitar-and-saxophone front line, Christofferson shuffles four players, for the most part teaming Tod Carver with John Gross or Jay Koder with Jeff Homan. Gross is the most assertive and unpredictable improviser of the bunch (and he also adds flute), but all are expert technicians and team players, and the personnel shifts don't diminish the album's cohesiveness.
And Christofferson -- laying down graceful chord structures on piano, filling in atmospheric washes or subtly funky solos on organ, thickening the tonal palette with the melodica's distinctive blend of innocence and yearning -- is the artful thread running through it all. Both leader and accompanist, star and supporting cast, first among brothers.