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eNotes- Interview Part II
November 20, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
PART II of INTERVIEW with STEVEN SANTORO - Jazz/Pop singer/Composer/Teacher
Debbie: Youíve written a lot of songs that have an R+B/Soul flavor to them which I love by the way! My daughter and I listen to your songs all the time. We downloaded them from iTunes. Who are your musical influences when it comes to writing and singing?
Steven: Everything from Stevie Wonder to Billy Joel, Elton John and Pat Methany Ė all the stuff I heard on the radio in the 70ís before the genres were split up into different radio stations.
Debbie: I hear a lot of Stevie Wonder in you.
Steven: Yeah, that was stuff that really affected me a lot. Oddly enough, I was never a big record buyer. I was never one of those people who read the labels and figured out who produced it -unless I really fall in love with something. I find a lot of the music that Iíve been influenced by is music that Iíve just heard in passing.
Debbie: Interesting! Where does your inspiration come when you are writing a song? This is a question from my daughter.
Steven: My inspiration comes from a couple of things. One is a real deep emotional connection to the way I view life and death. A lot of what Iíve been writing lately seems to come from the idea of mortality and childhood Ė opposites. A depth of the questioning of life and love. Iím a real love junkie. And then on the more technical side, as far as the lyrics go, I love to be able to fit complex ideas into very small spaces. I love to mix words around and create on that palette.
Debbie: Youíre a lyricist as well. Something else on the resume.
Steven: As a matter of fact, I am in the middle of writing a musical with my two partners. We have a major director and producers involved and weíre meeting again on December 10th and weíre rewriting again based on notes from the producers.
Debbie: Is this going to be a movie?
Steven: Hopefully, but right now itís a musical. Weíre going up in a theater in Atlanta. Thatís going to be our try-out, but we have our sights set on Broadway of course. In this case, I am just the lyricist. I only wrote the music to one of the songs. That was really good for honing my skills. Writing for different characters is really amazing.
Debbie: You started playing the saxophone in the 4th grade but gravitated toward the piano. What was it about the piano that called to you?
Steven: It made me completely self-reliant. I could sit there and write songs. I never practiced anything. I didnít have any technique or teacher. I memorized where F was based on a piece of gum that was placed on that key in the practice room of my high school. I immediately started playing seventh chords. I loved the sound of them and the chords allowed me to sing. The saxophone wasnít my true expression. I did it fairly well but it was ultimately like putting a cork in my mouth.
Debbie: Were you involved in music at Milford High School?
Steven: Yes, I was. I was in the jazz band.
Debbie: Did you do the musicals?
Steven: I didnít. I donít have a musicals background but Iíve always loved the idea of a musical. It just blows my mind! The fact that someone would just start singing, well, I donít care that it doesnít seem natural or any of that. There havenít been a lot of musicals that Iíve seen that Iíve been particularly interested in, but the idea of a musical is amazing to me.
Debbie: Tell us about the Song of America album and your contribution to it. I donít know the song you sang but itís a beautiful arrangement.
Steven: Thank you. I got a call from someone I had met through an ASCAP advanced songwriterís workshop. I had attended it many years ago. He went on to also produce other artists. Apparently, he got the gig to produce this record. He sent me an email one day and asked me to check out this website and I saw all the information. He said that heíd like me to do this particular song. I couldnít imagine what I could do with it. He said it was going to be with a lot of well-known artists, everyone from Take Six to Andy Bey and John Mellencamp. I really wanted to be a part of it. I found out that there was this one song left and I got the sense that no one wanted to do it. So I guess he felt confident that I could do something with it.
Debbie: So you completely reharmonized that. I donít know the original, but I canít believe it was anything like you played.
Steven: No it wasn't.
Debbie: When did that album come out?
Steven: It came out this September. You canít get it on my website. It was a retail record but I think it was mostly meant for education as a means to teach history. A lot of those copies went out to schools across America.
Debbie: Thatís really interesting.
Steven: So he gave it to me. I dragged it over the piano and put it on. I got right into it and immediately started reharmonizing it.
Debbie: How did you learn how to reharmonize?
Steven: Thatís a good question! I donít know.
Debbie: You didnít study it so did you just sit at the piano and think, this chord would sound good instead of this other chord?
Steven: I know the rules for reharmonization from my jazz studies but they didnít seem to really apply to this. I guess I got lucky with this one.
Debbie: You did it by ear.
Steven: Yes, I did it by ear. I can hear what I want and then I basically follow that instinct.
Debbie: You taught at a public high school in New York, the Public High School Repertory Company, correct?
Debbie: What did you teach there? You seem to enjoy teaching. What was it about that school that you enjoyed?
Steven: That school was very emotionally challenging, actually. It was one of things where some days teaching there was the most incredibly meaningful and beautiful thing that I could have been doing. Then there were most other days when it was really difficult. This school was made up mostly of kids who were having trouble at other schools and they happened to be really talented in the arts. Thatís what made it difficult. It was emotionally draining. The school was pretty much out of control.
Debbie: I was totally romanticizing it Ė like ďFameĒ where the kids are dancing on the tables during lunch hour.
Steven: Well, there was that too. These kids would have Dance-Offs where they would challenge each other. And people would break out into song. There was a grand piano in this room where the kids would have a kind of indoor recess and, well, there was a lot of music happening there. There was a gospel choir. I taught there for 3 years. Since there was no formal music program, I got to design it. So I decided I wanted to teach songwriting and basic musicianship and some voice.
Debbie: Do you have any upcoming shows?
Steven: I just did something at Lincoln Center this weekend. I was part of the Cabaret Convention. It was very strange actually. Cabaret is a really odd genre that I donít really belong in at all but I was asked to do it.
Debbie: Well, I guess if you get asked to do anything at the Lincoln Center, you do it!
Steven: Yes, thatís how I was looking at it. I got the chance to sing in Rose Hall which was an amazingly beautiful hall. I donít have anything (shows) right now but I am about to get a proposal from a record company and booking agent in the U.K. It looks like I am hopefully going to sign with them and hopefully start playing out again.
Debbie: Does that mean that you will be performing mostly in the U.K?
Steven: I donít know, probably. I would assume though that since I live here, we would be setting up gigs in the US as well. I just got to the point with gigs that, as much as I love to sing in public, when you donít have the support of a booking agent or record label, it gets old.
Debbie: In terms of drumming up business? Getting an audience?
Steven: Yes. And you have to push people to get the gigs. Itís also one of the reasons why I want to become more self-sufficient on the piano. Itís going to make that a lot easier, not having to put a whole band together. That is my goal, to really feel comfortable playing the piano to do solo gigs.
Debbie: Youíd be a one-man show, not dependent upon anyone else.
Steven: Yes, there are some gigs that you can take just as a solo gig that can be very easy. There was a time in New York when I was filling a room of 60-80 people and that was a lot of fun but then places started closing down and I moved out of New York. I really need the support of a booking agent. Then they can do all that work. I donít want to have to be responsible for everything. Iím already scattered.
Debbie: Well, itís been fascinating talking with you Steven. Thank you for your time. I really enjoy your music and I wish you the best. I hope to see you at a gig sometime!
Steven: Youíre very welcome, Debbie.
Steve Santoro website
Well, all of the classes have now been scheduled for the Winter and Spring. The new "Playing with Style" class is off and running and is an excellent follow up to the "Instant Piano" or "Pop/Jazz Piano for the Busy Professional" classes. (I renamed it). Be sure to check the website in the next few days and you will see everything updated. I will now be teaching at Minuteman Regional Vocational School in Lexington and Middlesex Community College in Bedford.
I just finished taping the DVD that will go with "The Piano Express" book and CD! It will be ready in the new year. I'll let you know.
Have a great Thanksgiving. Your next issue of eNotes will be a audio piano lesson for sure. Let me know if you have a particular subject that you would like me to give a lesson about. I'd love to hear from you.
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