Steve Bach has had a remarkable career as a composer, arranger, pianist, keyboardist and musical director. He has been an important asset to a long list of major artists in a very wide variety of genres, showing that he can be consistently creative in many different idioms while always writing and performing in his own individual voice. With the release of his new CD 8 Keys, a very original trio set that is his first recording as a leader in several years, the focus is back on his own colorful music.
Born and raised in New York, Steve Bach started playing music when he was five. In high school Music Theory he began to compose for small woodwind and brass combinations. “When I was 14, a friend recommended an Oscar Peterson album to me and I began exploring piano trio jazz.”
Steve enrolled at SUNY Postdam with a major in composition and theory. “In college I wrote for orchestra and big band but I was always more attracted to the smaller ensembles.” After graduating, he settled in New York City, worked as a professional pianist (including accompanying modern jazz dance classes) and was part of the jazz scene.
A big fan of Return to Forever and Stanley Clarke in particular, Steve hit the big time when he toured the world as the keyboardist with Clarke’s band. “I was a 24-year old in heaven.” He is featured on Clarke’s CD Rocks, Pebbles and Sand. Next for Steve was a long association with the music production company Reel Music. “I was their staff composer and keyboardist, doing everything from scoring short movies to multi-media presentations and industrial shows.
During the time he was with Reel Music, Steve Bach started his solo career. He recorded seven CDs as a leader during 1983-97 for the Café. Valley Vue, and Soundwings labels: Child’s Play, Holiday, Zero Gravity, More Than A Dream, Nice Moves, City Magic and Now And Then. More Than A Dream and City Magic were in the top 20 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart. Due to his success in blending together jazz with r&b, Steve did a lot of touring with his own group and often performed at festivals.
In addition to working with his own band, Steve Bach continued being a very valuable sideman with a wide range of artists. During 1989-91 he worked with Flora Purim & Airto Moreira, and Sergio Mendes. “With Airto and Flora, we played Brazilian fusion and traditional Brazilian rhythms in an very improvisational style. It was also fun playing with Sergio Mendes who is a pop icon, learning the music from his records. Since Sergio usually played the acoustic piano or Fender Rhodes, I often played synthesizers with him. In addition, I was the MD for New Age superstar Kitaro on his first American tour. It was very interesting and challenging music with deceptive simplicity that gave me the opportunity to play eight keyboards including keyboard bass.”
During the same period and for close to a dozen years, Steve Bach was the music director for Andy Williams. “He was still pretty famous but was not recording as much or working as often as he wanted. I started as his synth player, replacing his string section. In the 1990s he decided to build a 2,000 seat theatre in a little town, Branson, Missouri. I was not only his pianist and conductor but it was my job in Branson to make 11 or 12 musicians somehow sound like an orchestra. We played two shows a day for six days a week, a great experience. I lived in Branson for an eight-year period before returning to Los Angeles.” Steve also worked with Bobby Vinton as his pianist, as the musical director for guitarist-songwriter Jim Stafford, and during 2000-2005 toured with Robby Krieger of the Doors.
Steve Bach’s career took yet another surprising turn when he became a musical director for Cirque du Soleil in 2007. He lived and worked in Macau, China during 2007-10, directing, playing keyboards and accordion, and arranging the music for the Zaia show. He spent much of 2010-15 working on Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana show including a pair of three-month runs (over 200 performances) at Radio City Music Hall, a world tour that included Moscow, and a long period based in Las Vegas.
And his diverse career has included another wild departure. Steve collaborated as a composer with Nick Littlemore (who was writing music for Cirque du Soleil) and Luke Steele, the co-founder and lead singer of Empire Of The Sun, a very popular electronic dance music group. Two of their songs were recorded by the band. “Alive” reached #1 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs Chart, becoming one of the biggest hits in the pop music world in 2013.
With all of this activity, it is not surprising that it has been some time since Steve Bach recorded as a leader. Recently Steve had the desire to record some new pieces and the result is 8 Keys. For this stimulating project, his acoustic piano is featured along with two talented veteran Las Vegas musicians: Bassist Steve Flora and drummer Jakubu Griffin. The music, consisting of six of Steve’s originals, is inspired a bit by Keith Jarrett and Ahmad Jamal, the modal recordings of the ECM label, and Terry Riley’s piano music. Utilizing patterns conceived by Steve, the performances are often hypnotic, build up slowly but logically, feature close interplay by the musicians, and reward repeated listenings.
For the future, Steve Bach hopes to record more albums, performing his original music much more often in public, and being a musical director for other significant artists. But if his future can be predicted by his past activities, the only thing that one knows for certain about the composer-arranger-keyboardist’s career is that it will be continue to be noteworthy, stimulating and creative. -Scott Yanow