Five Questions with Steve Slagle

Steve Slagle
Steve Slagle

Multi-GRAMMY®-nominated, saxophonist/flutist, Steve Slagle was born in Los Angeles, CA, where he got his first saxophone, and later attended Berklee College of Music in Boston on a DownBeat scholarship. One of his first gigs, at the age of 18, was in the Stevie Wonder Band, in Boston. Often featured as a sideman, Slagle is a consummate leader, a bop & beyond super-burner who has paid his dues, and is on-call for stars outside traditional jazz, like St. Vincent, Elvis Costello and Beastie Boys, for whom he played the much-sampled flute parts on HELLO NASTY.

Hello Nasty by Beastie Boys with Steve Slagle
Hello Nasty by Beastie Boys with Steve Slagle

Slagle has played with Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Cab Calloway, Steve Kuhn, Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, & Milton Nascimento. He was the arranger and lead alto for the Mingus Big Band, winning two GRAMMY®-nominations for recording with them. Slagle plays with Joe Lovano, and was on Lovano’s GRAMMY®-nominated 52nd Street Themes for Blue Note Records.

Joe Lovano's 52nd Street Themes with Steve Slagle
Joe Lovano’s 52nd Street Themes with Steve Slagle

Throughout all of his playing he has been performing with his own groups, including with his long-time partner, Omaha born, guitarist Dave Stryker. They’ve made several recordings together, winning rave reviews. After playing together for over two decades, reviewers say the two share near telepathic rapport. Jazz Times calls Stryker/Slagle, “…one of today’s most inspired two-man teams..“.

Steve Slagle & Dave Stryker
Steve Slagle & Dave Stryker

Steve is a long time faculty member at The Manhattan School of Music,
and is a clinician and performer worldwide.

I’ve dug Steve Slagle, & have played his music, going back to my days programming jazz radio for KVNO in the early 90’s. I always loved his sound, and his forward-motion, positive energy. When you see a recording with Steve Slagle on it, you know that it cooks hard, and has heart.

"Have horn, will travel" -Steve Slagel
“Have horn, will travel”
-Steve Slagel

If you’re in the NYC area, check Steve and pianist Bill O’Connell Friday, November 14, at Michiko Studios at 149 West 46th Street between 6th & 7th.

Live at Michiko - Steve Slagle and Bill O'Connell
Live at Michiko – Steve Slagle and Bill O’Connell

Steve was gracious enough to answer FIVE QUESTIONS.

1) What inspires and drives you to practice and play?

SS– I’ve been driven by music since I was very young, it was in my blood.. I really don’t have to force practicing as it just comes,kind of like a basketball player shooting hoops before a game. You have to keep your chops up always, and if I am not working on an original then I will play a ballad I like or something challenging to work out on, like maybe Bird! My inspiration comes from life and keeping my ears open, free, ready to make mistakes and learn. Everything you play is right, that’s a frame of mind, you take a shot and wish it well. Lucky I have neighbors who are
used to me playing sax, flute and piano here in NYC which is a blessing. Once in a while my daughter says ’daddy that’s loud!” –Ive learned to play more quietly, over the years, for sure!

2) What are your practice habits? How often? What’s your routine? What
about when you’re traveling?

SS– I guess I don’t have a set ‘routine’ but there are certain cool thingsI’ve learned to do to warm up if I haven’t played in a day or so…..but lately I am busy learning whatever I just composed or someone else’s new stuff. Just because you write it doesn’t mean you can so easily play it! – Sometimes someone else can play my song better than me! So that keeps me doing it daily almost like meditation, u never reach the end. On the road I find the flute is best in hotels, especially since I’ve usually played sax mostly the night before. So flute is great to play in hotels before a gig, it’s a different than sax and more like a trumpet,chops – wise,so I work on it and like playing in all keys and crazy overtones.

3) What’s the NY scene like right now? Lots happening or no? Young cats
coming up?

SS– NYC has been my home center since I was 24 and so more than half of my life I’ve seen a lot change and a lot stay the same. All the ghosts of the great players are hear and hearing, so you have lots to live up to. I am in the frame of mind that its always the ‘golden age’ as far as music, so ive always liked the scene here.If only I could find a place to park my car! New york is a tough ugly town and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t like the mayors that try to make it pretty because with NYC its as Monk said in a song -’ Ugly Beauty’. Keep Time Square nasty!!! Unfortunately, there are those that want to make it like Disney Land but that aint NYC……(go to Florida) You can live here in NYC all your life and never meet everyone who is playing music and has something to say, young , old and forever young.

4) Favorite musicians to play with? Favorite music to listen to, living
or dead?

SS– Okay this is a hard one to answer because there are so many I could list. Right now I am playing with pianist Bill O’connell as well as my work with guitarist Dave Stryker and occasional work with Joe Lovano’s Nonet.I write for all of them too, as well as the Mingus Big Band. Listening is something people don’t do enough—I mean really listening,not walking down the street with pods in you ears, but feeling music move the air with power and humbly checking it out. I listen to everything except I tell my daughter to chill with some of those trendy singers…I like the cream that rises to the top, as it always will. I’m going to hear Stevie Wonder sing Songs in the Key of Life this week in Philadelphia!—YES!!!!

5) What professional goals do you have? Personal goals? Any new books in

SS– I keep writing music almost no matter what happens in my life ,good or bad,it comes out in the music. So the idea is just to stay in that zone where you can keep creating and coming up with something new. The Alto sax for me is unlimited in how far it can reach. With the feeling of time you have to always stay loose and dance with the beat,no matter what the rhythm is. Have grace,speed and take it slow–I was born in California! My book Scenes , Songs & Solos came out in 2013 and along with my musichas some funny stories in it. If I write another it will be a musical mystery, a page turner! (It will be called ‘The Man Who Stole the Overtones’) I hope it has a happy ending, (that can take more than a lifetime) THANX FOR YOUR INTEREST AND EARS!- MUSIC TAMES THE MIGHTY FEARS!

After I had let him go, I realized I hadn’t asked the following, so here is a little addendum:

5b) How did you come to work with St. Vincent, Elvis Costello, the
Beastie Boys? What’s that like? Anything coming in the future w/ any pop

SS– Elvis was with Mingus Big Band a tour we did–very nice smart dude,great musician and lyricist,fun to work with. Beastie Boys was a record date I played two songs on flute only–they were very cool and getting into ‘jazz’ in their listening at least— nice cats—–also their engineer was great and very contempo –i would like to work with him again- St Vincent was a one concert in Central Park thing that my friend
Ian Hendrickson-Smith (plays on Jimmy Fallon with Roots band) recommended me for. Have horn,will travel–ha!!





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