We had the good fortune of connecting with Steph Richards and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Steph, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born in a small town in northern Canada called Grande Prairie which is exactly what it sounds like, and had the fortune of learning to play the piano at an early age without music books. I learned music from records, the radio and looking back, I know I was lucky that I was able to develop my ear before my eyes (learning to read musical notation). Though I was the youngest member by at least a decade, my father encouraged me to join him in the local Scottish pipe and drum band, and it was both incredibly intimidating and challenging for a ten year old trying to keep up. Those two survival skills (braving intimidation and playing with people who are much better than you) would turn out to be the two most important things I’d carry with me my whole career. In the pipe and drum band I discovered the fantastic flourishing, drumstick-twirling tenor drum. It is an amazing instrument unlike any other– the tenor drummers are essentially virtuosic choreographed drumstick dancers. I was performing in all manner of venues from large scale arenas, to street-side parades, rodeos and community halls — learning that the stage could be anywhere you wanted it to be. This was an important lesson I held onto my career as I’m constantly exploring new places and ways to engage with the performance space around me. I picked up the trumpet in junior high school, drawn to the color of its sound. Throughout high school and university I found myself in the world of classical music, playing in orchestras and competitions across North America but my ears were pining for jazz, funk and soul; I wanted to improvise. After I graduated from school in LA (from the fabulous CalArts), I played backup with Kanye West and learned the thrill of playing shows for thousands of people. With stories of glamour and celebrity in my back pocket, I moved to New York City, where I chose to make my home for many years. Living in NYC, I had the chance to work with incredible artists within a huge range of genres from the pioneering creative music voices Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton to experimental performance artist Laurie Anderson to pop icons David Byrne and St. Vincent and jazz greats Ravi Coltrane and Jason Moran and so many many others. I’m forever grateful to all the collaborators I’ve had in my life. Five years ago I joined the progressive faculty at UC San Diego. Coming from Brooklyn, there is space here, both figuratively and literally, and this has opened up my music and given its breath a new tempo.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My career has taken me from performing in arenas, rock clubs, rodeo parades, television studios, concert halls, music festivals, jazz clubs, recording studios and everything in between. ‘In between’ are the key words, as my own work resides precisely in that creative space between genres. I’m a composer, trumpeter, conductor, presenter and collaborator. I make new and experimental jazz music in consideration of space, senses and people. I work in between the creative music communities and jazz communities. When audiences hear my music I hope they will be brought into a space of fantasy and communion. There is nothing to know or understand in advance of being at one of my shows, all I can hope for is an audience that is open to new ways of hearing, and is willing to let the music wash over and let it take you where it needs to go. Was it easy to get to where I am today, professionally speaking? No – the life of a freelance musician is incredibly difficult. Beyond being exceptionally unique in your craft, your artistry demands that you repeatedly confront yourself, your abilities and your philosophies from many angles. You cannot ignore the news – you must create out of empathy and reaction to the world around you. That means you must feel, deeply, then find the courage to share that vulnerability with the world, so that we can empower critical self aware and empathetic citizens. I believe that choosing to be an artist one of the most humble, daring and honorable things one could do with their life.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
The Valle de Guadalupe is a short trip across the border and it is a beautiful, incredible and delicious place to visit. For music and art I’d recommend Jazz at the Athaneum, the Bread and Salt museum, the art series SPACE TIME, the music series Fresh Sounds as well as Dizzy’s, The Loft and The Conrad Prebys Music Center (both at UCSD). It’s a must to visit Convoy St for asian foods, though my favorite sushi spot in all of sandiego is Soichi Sushi
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My story is one of luck and circumstance, with incredible mentors along the way, spanning the globe. Behind every professional musician is a long line of teachers who give so much to cultivating creative, empathetic citizens and one of the most impactful people in my career was the composer, conductor, cornetist, innovator and pioneer Butch Morris. When I moved to NYC, Butch took me under his wing, as they say. He taught me more than I’ll ever know. He hooked me into the scene, invited me to join in his groups and taught me the depth and meaning of artistic surrender. As humanity continues to evolve, Butch taught me the urgent responsibility that art must evolve right alongside it.
Other: https://stephrichards.bandcamp.com/ https://music.apple.com/us/artist/steph-richards/1448293519 https://open.spotify.com/artist/04zMek0jIqqa8HWAIGCBol