Jeremy Steig | Interview

Interview with Scott McIntosh 
A massive than you to Scott for letting us use his archived interviews from over a decade ago.
This is an abbreviated version of Scott's full interview. To see the complete interview go to Scott's website...

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(Scott McIntosh): Thanks for doing this interview! The Tommy Bolin Fans (as we exist on the internet) have yet to meet all the talented Jazz/Rock Fusion musicians that were intertwined with and inspirational to Tommy Bolin.

How did you get started with the flute and, later, how did you get into Jazz Fusion?

(Jeremy Steig): I started playing recorder at age 6, which I started playing in first grade. I was improvising almost immediately, picking out melodies by ear, and then making up new parts to go with it. When I was 8, I retired, to do all the things that kids do, until I was 11. At that point, my mother wanted me to take up an instrument again, and they were teaching clarinet and flute in the school I went to. I had never heard any kid play the clarinet without sounding like shit, so the choice of the flute was easy.

Luckily, (extraordinary luck) the young flute teacher I had was Paige Brook, who had just joined the New York Philharmonic. To this day, I have never heard anyone play as good as Paige did.(He just passed away a few months ago.) As soon as I started playing the flute, I was playing by ear and improvising, just like with the recorder. I didn't know what I was after until I was almost 15.
I bought a Clifford Brown/Max Roach record, and I realized that I had been playing jazz all along, without knowing the word. Back in the 60's, I used to sit in with everybody. Back then, musicians weren't so protective of their territory, and they all let me sit in with them. I sat in with a wide variety of musicians, and with rock bands, too. I found I could keep my soloing integrity while playing over a funky beat.

One week, I had my band backing up Tim Hardin. In the middle of the week, Tim disappeared and never came back. (As he was prone to do). For the rest of the week, we played Tim's tunes without him, and we were able to stretch out alot more. And that was the beginning of the Satyrs. The next gig, I added a blues singer named Adrian Guillery. We decided that we'd invented jazz-rock. Of course, there were about 50 other people who had come to same conclusion.

The ‘New York Jazz Scene’ is something you definitely were a part of. How did you get involved with it, and what were those days like?

Like I said, there was alot of sitting in going on. I had the greatest sitting in situation for any horn player, EVER. Because I sat in with the Bill Evans Trio (their last set) every night, for about 10 years, whenever they played New York. In those days, New York was a very passionate place. It was unbelievable how many fabulous musicians there were. Sometimes we would find spaces where we could play music, like lofts and stuff. We'd carry huge amplifiers up, maybe, 5 flights of stairs. Just so we could get the right sound.

Who did you hang out with, and who were your biggest influences?

I went to high school with Eddie Gomez. It was a music high school and we used to go into a room full of basses in between periods and play jazz duo. When the teachers caught us, we were reprimanded for playing jazz and would get "N" on our report card (meaning Not satisfactory.) Eddie and I are still playing together; in fact, we're making an album right now. It's going to be duos and overdubbed duos. By the way, the same school now has a jazz program.(I consider ‘jazz education’ the kiss of death to the music.) My main influences were: Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane

In one of the Tommy Bolin interviews, he says, "The way I got involved in jazz-rock was through a flute player named Jeremy Steig. He played on the second Zephyr album. He showed me various jazz relationships and put them into a rock perspective, and then through him I met a lot of New York people like Cobham and Jan Hammer".

How and where did you meet Tommy Bolin?

I met Tommy at Electic Lady studios. We were both making records there. I was making a record called ‘Energy’ with Jan Hammer, and, excuse me, I can't remember the name of Tommy's band. I guess he was the only one I was interested in playing with. He was like a shining star next to the rest of his band. Tommy wanted to play jazz. The fact is, he was already a great improviser. He just needed to play with good jazz musicians who could respond to him.

THANK YOU for turning Tommy on to Jazz-Rock! What sort of ‘jazz relationships"’ is Tommy referring to, and how did you put them into a "rock perspective"? (Go ahead and get technical, if you want!)

I introduced Tommy to the guys I was playing with: Eddie Gomez, Jan Hammer, Don Alias, Larry Young. Whatever I showed Tommy musically, was by really listening to the other person. Improvised music moves much too fast to figure out in words what you're doing.

Why aren't you mentioned in the liner notes of the second Zephyr Album (‘Going Back To Colorado’)?
And wasn't John Faris credited with playing flute?

I never played on the second Zephyr Album. It probably WAS John Faris playing flute. Anyway, it wasn't me.

When with Zephyr, Tommy obviously lived in Boulder, Colorado. Where did you live at the time, and how was it that you would get together with Tommy and Zephyr?

I went out to Colorado for a month, and for a month Tommy and I had a band and played all over Colorado. The drummer that played with us WAS from Zephyr. After that, I was playing with Tommy, not with Zephyr. (It was OUR group.)

Your album titled ‘Energy’ must have had a powerful impact on Tommy. He named his fusion band Energy! Is there a story to that name of Tommy's band?

Yes. He stole the name from me, but it suited him.

You are credited with introducing Tommy to Billy Cobham, and you three, along with Jan Hammer, did a lot of good work together. What is one of your fondest memories of those collaborations?

The collaboration with Billy Cobham lasted 2 hours, at Electric Lady Studio. I stayed up all night before the recording, and could hardly play a note. But that recording is the only thing available of me and Tommy, so nobody will ever know how good we played together.

What was it like for you ‘Jazz Cats’, who were much more formally educated (musically), working with Tommy -- who couldn't read music? How would songs develop?

Yes, us ‘jazz cats’ can read music. But anybody who can REALLY play, plays with their EAR, and not with their brain. When you play with your brain instead of your ear and your feelings, you get Wynton Marsalis.

True fans have some bootlegs of gigs (well, I only know about one with just you and Tommy!). How many gigs did you all play together, and at what venues?

We played a bunch of concerts in Colorado, a club called Tolagis, a couple of weeks at the Cafe`a Go Go on Bleecker Street (In NY). The last gig we did together was a week at Slugs, in the East Village. It was a very dangerous neighborhood, and several of our friends got mugged coming over to hear us.

In a very recent release of yours, Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer join you, and you do a song called ‘Downstretch’ (on the ‘Something Else” album). What's the story behind that song, and were you all thinking of Tommy when you re-recorded it?

I recorded ‘Downstretch’ with Jan Hammer and Don Alias BEFORE I met Tommy, and I never re-recorded it. Jan Hammer wrote the tune.

Some people think that, were he still with us, Tommy would have developed more along Jazz Fusion directions, rather than Heavy Metal. You may know better than anyone what his ambitions were when it comes to Jazz Fusion. Do you agree?

I think Tommy's aspirations would have been to be a pop star, and to be on MTV. That's where he was headed when he died. He would have done more for music in that role than just to be another jazz musician. Jimi Hendrix raised everyone's consciousness by introducing great improvising to a huge audience. Tommy was the only other person I knew who would have done that. He was an incredible player.

Any final thoughts you'd like to share?

Tommy played very loud. He needed to jack up his amp to get the effects that he wanted. What makes me the saddest when I think about Tommy, is that I never could play as loud as he did. Now, there are sound systems good enough to accommodate a flute player like me with a Tommy Bolin. Unfortunately, we now have the technology but we're missing a lot of vital voices.

The Tommy Bolin Memorial Fund was originally established by Johnnie Bolin in memory of his brother, in association with the Siouxland Community Foundation. The Ultimate mission is simple... To preserve the music, the memory and the legacy of Tommy Bolin.