One of the leading Chicago-based artists is saxophonist Steve Cole. He says, "The genre needs a bit of a shift. Maybe it's just like a shift towards the more authenticity I guess, but to me, it's hard to escape some of the influences that are uniquely Chicago of having lived here all my life. Curtis Mayfield is from here, Quincy Jones is from here and Chaka Khan is from here. This is the music that's bouncing around the streets. Having played with so many musicians in this town of varying ages, it's an interesting tradition that gets passed along. To me, that's kind of where the Chicago sound comes from."
Cole lived in a home where he had a lot of musical influences from his family, starting with his dad's record collection. He says his collection was pretty comprehensive." I listened to everything, just exploring. I loved Dave Brubeck. Paul Desmond was a mysterious character to me and his sound was so simple and so deep at the same time."
Steve Cole says he respects Ramsey Lewis and what he brings to the Chicago sound. He says, "Certainly Ramsey is definitely an anchor here in Chicago. But there's a lot of talent in Chicago and maybe we're just starting to get on people's radar. So many of the musicians on a lot of the records in this format are supported by sidemen who are originally from Chicago. It's interesting to see how that's going to evolve in the future."
With major record companies merging and eliminating their jazz divisions, Cole thinks it's important to continue to make the best music possible. He says, "There's a large audience for this music and it's up to us as artists to provide the most creative products for that audience. For awhile we tried to be a little bit too mass appeal in what we were doing. The smooth jazz or the contemporary jazz market is a niche. It's a group of very sophisticated people with high standards of what they want in music. We have to recognize that and we have to give it to them at a high level every time out. In every type of music, there is a bit of a cycle. Some of the companies that were heavily invested in this music decided that they weren't going to pursue it any further. Those labels that are making the commitment to it I think are going to do rather well."
After Warner Brothers Records dropped their entire jazz division, Cole signed with the Narada Jazz label. He says, Narada has made a commitment to this music to providing it at the highest level that is absolutely going to pay off. They are extremely supportive and they're invested in this and they're invested in the artists. By letting us do what we do best and giving us guidance and support, letting us make the music that's in us, it's going to be the best formula.
Steve Cole's latest release for Narada Jazz is called "True "and it's the record that Cole has always wanted to do. He says," To me, it's a return to the kind of music that made me want to be a recording artist in this genre in the first place. I think it's really kind of being true to who I am and the music that I always wanted to make. I've always been focused on the composition as a recording artist, but most of the satisfaction I've ever gotten as a player has been when I am stretching out. I really wanted to do that this time. "
"Cole recorded True" differently than he has recorded previous projects. He says," The record is a very live record. There's very little synthesis or programming or anything like that. Most everything was done live in the studio, which is for me the best way to record and make records because it's really the interaction between musicians. It adds that magic to the project. In my live show, I really try to build enthusiasm through improvisation, which I haven't done enough of in my recordings."
As an artist, Steve Cole believes improvising shows just how good a player you are. He says, "A lot of the substance of a player is evident once they get off the melody and start improvising. That's a window into who you are. I've always been a really expressive player and I gravitate toward expressive music. The most satisfaction I get out of playing is when I'm able to convey some emotion to the audience and actually feel it. The audience really responds if you reach something in a solo. Your eyes are closed and you're just trying to bring this feeling out and suddenly everyone is clapping and standing up. There has been a bit of anonymity in some of the music lately. I think the audience wants to have a little more insight into an artist's humanity, their heart. It's hard to do that with lots of programming and technology."
In True, Steve Cole shows what he feels inside him and lets the audience know. He says, "To me, music needs to be human and organic, that's when people respond when it gives them a window into what the artist is." Let Steve Cole always show that side of him to the world.