Skye Steele is a marvel of a musician and one of my favorite human beings.
Skye first started performing with me in 2003, when the second iteration of my quartet disbanded and I was basically holding a series of live auditions for new band members at low-key gigs around town. I remember Skye's first show with me, during a short-lived residency at The Slipper Room on the Lower East Side in NYC. I think i probably handed him a copy of what was then my most current release -- DO WHAT I WANT -- a day or two before the gig. Or maybe even that same morning. He came to the gig having done his homework, knowing all the violin lines and arranagments and bringing his own, unique stylings and energy to each of them.
I was also introduced that day to one of my favorite things about Skye -- his candor. I don't remember the exact words he used, but he said something to me along these lines: "You know, I have to tell you that I get asked to learn a lot of music and I play with a lot of bands, and most of the time I listen to the CD or demo or whatever and I think 'this is total garbage.' So, I was really surprised when I listenied to your album and thought 'wow, I actually like this.'"
Among the scores of musicians I've had the pleasure of working with over the years, Skye may have one of the most unique musical voices that I know. In his improvisations, he attacks (or caresses) a song sideways, often in unexpected and destabilizing ways. And yet, his motivation is never to draw attention to himself, to detract from the integrity of the tune. Rather, he works with the band to turn things inside out, often opening the song up to new possibilities, or exposing previously unknown qualities or elements inherent within it.
Listen to the studio recording of "Maramures" from NO FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS. The song begins plaintively, gently lilting, seeking to evoke the pastoral beauty of the Northern province of Romania. Then, at just under a minute and a half into the tune, just as the track is dangerously close to crossing over into easy-listening land, Skye's violin comes in, twisting the landscape in exactly the right way, giving the song teeth, cutting right into its heart in a way that's beautiful and breathtaking. It's almost as though the camera, which had been doing a sweeping overview shot of the landscape, suddenly pans way in to a close up of the smallest detail -- a fly buzzing around a cow's face; a child jumping for joy in a river strewn with garbage; a farmer's face at the end of a long day in the fields.
Skye's playing gives us all of this, no small feat. Few musicians care enough about the music they're playing to engage in this way. I don't know many players more creative than Skye Steele.
In addition to his many skills as a performer, Skye is an exceptional human, bringing care and consciousness to how he leads his life. He's a vegetarian. He's a politcal activist. He's passionate about being environmentally conscious, and about helping others. It's an honor not only to have him as an associate and a collabortaor, but also as a friend.
Skye does a lot more than just make music with me and other bandleaders. He's a composer and songwriter in his own right, and is getting ready to release a new album. Read more about it, and him, right here.