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eNotes- Interview
November 14, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hi there

As promised in the last issue of eNotes, I have Part I of the interview with Steven Santoro. He is a fabulous R+B/soul and jazz singer who has taught at the Berklee College of Music for seven years. He has also been signed by Atlantic records and has composed lots of beautiful music. He just wrote a song and performed it for a compilation CD called "Songs of America". Other artists on this CD are John Mellencamp and Take 6 amongst many others.

Click on this link to see a picture of Steve and read some of his bio. Rex Reed calls him the "best singer you've never heard of"!

Steve Santoro picture and bio

And for those of you who missed it last week, here is a link to Steve's website to hear some of his songs and watch part of his shows!
Steve Santoro website

This interview with Steve lasted almost an hour. It took place while he was driving in his car from Boston to Connecticut. He was a total joy to speak with - funny, thoughtful, descriptive and insightful. I think you'll love reading this. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him. I'm transcribing this interview as fast as I can but there is a lot there! More in the next few weeks. So, as they say in show biz, without further adieu, I'd like to introduce......

Interview with Steve

Debbie: I was on your website. Youíve done so much with music Ė teaching high school, composing, teaching at Berklee, arranging and producing, singing jingles. Can you embellish on any of this? Have I left anything out?

Steve: No, thatís pretty much it. I have a very diverse set of skills and I just use them when the moments arise. Itís sort of a blessing and a curse.

Debbie: Why a curse?

Steve: Well, right now for example, Iíve decided to get serious about playing the piano.

Debbie: Really?

Steve: Yes, Iíve always written songs at the piano since I was a kids but I never had that many formal lessons and by the time I had lessons I was an adult and I wasnít studying to read bass and treble clef, I was studying chords for jazz and pop stuff.

Debbie: Was this at UMass?

Steve: Yes, when I was at UMass, the only piano I had was picking up ideas from piano players. Iíd hear someone in a practice room and Iíd ask what they were doing. Theyíd say they were using a particular voicing. Thatís how I learned my seventh voicings. Voicings that contain the seven, nine, thirteen and all that. So I was studying jazz and I wasnít doing much pop music back then so I really skipped over triads. This was really, ultimately a bad thing. I learned all these seventh chord positions but then everytime I had to play triads, I was really uncomfortable.

Debbie: Do you accompany a lot with your students?

Steve: Yes I do, at Berklee. And I also do all my composing at the piano. But it has taken me so long to actually study the things that make you a legitimate piano player, because I did all these other things. I just never got to be as good at the piano as I wanted to be.

Debbie: Are you studying with a teacher now at Berklee?

Steve: I have been to a couple of piano teachers over the years and I remember all the things they had me do which I didnít do.. . like scales. Iím doing Hanon religiously and scales. Iím practicing triads in all positions so I make sure that Iíve got that under my belt.

Debbie: People are going to think I paid you to say this!

Steve: No, no, I am really doing this. Iím going back to all of the basics and I am finding that in my accompanying and in my quest to play better solos, itís the basics that make the difference in my ability to do things Iíve always wanted to do.

Debbie: Are you talking more about your physical agility?

Steve: Yes, but if youíve already been doing harmony and you know how to build a chord and which tensions to use over those chords, and you donít have the agility, then itís kind of a waste. I always had this belief that if I use the knowledge that I have about chords, that the agility would just come from going over a song over and over again but it doesnít. You have to do the arpeggios and scales - all the things that make your fingers able to play more quickly and to play without missing the notes.
I have also found that relaxing the hand was probably the most important thing you could do. I would quite often miss chords and not be accurate. Now I play everything as slowly as I can and make sure I have a relaxed hand. My goal is to be playing piano for myself in a year in front of people.

Debbie: How long have you been teaching at Berklee?

Steve: Almost seven years.

Debbie: You teach voice?

Steve: I teach private lessons. I have a pop/rock/country labs as well. I teach classes on singing in the studio too.

Debbie: Do you encourage your students to play the piano?

Steve: I absolutely do. But most of their skills are very low. But most of the students donít get how important that is.

Debbie: You sing both jazz and pop music and youíve recorded an album with the President of Atlantic records, Ahmet Ertegun. Thereís a great video on your website! How did that come about?

Steve: It came out in summer of 1995. I was living in Los Angeles. I was pretty much ready to hang it up and a friend of mine was temping at a publishing company and she met a guy who said I should send him some of my tunes. So I did and he liked them and he sent them out to record companies. He did, and it went to Atlantic Records apparently and ended up in the wrong box with an A and R guy who was looking for songs for Bette Midler -oddly enough! It was totally inappropriate but he thought it was interesting and he liked it and he got back to them. Suddenly I was in a meeting with Ahmet Ertegun (President of Atlantic Records) which was totally bizarre and we made ďMoons and GroovesĒ.

Debbie: What happened with that? Did it get airplay?

Steve: It did. It did well in jazz radio at the time but that doesnít really mean anything. Jazz doesnít sell records. That was the year of Hootie and the Blowfish. That was the record that they promoted that year. It was very strange politically on that record too because Ahmet brought me in on his own. Even though he was the chairman of the record label, it was still considered something that happened off the radar. So by the time it was released, nobody knew who I was there. I wasnít connected to any of the departments. It was very uncomfortable.

That's the end of Part I. Much more in the next issue! I wanted to share with you something I heard on National Public Radio yesterday that fascinated me. In the next issue of Vanity Fair, there will be an article on Motown and Berry Gordy, the founder. Here is how he would decide whether to go with a song. He would ask people, "Would you rather spend $1 on this song or a hamburger?". If enough people answered with "the song", he would go ahead and produce it! I just loved that. Food or music, excellent litmus test.

Well, that's it for this week. I've got another great pianist coming our way to be interviewed! This time a woman. Stay tuned as they say.

take care and have a great weekend.

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