“A giant of the not too distant future,” declared the Los Angeles Times of composer/bassist/producer Larry Steen who has just released his highly anticipated, second CD "View From Afar". Unlike most jazz artists, Steen creates his music by fusing the authentic rhythms and textures of various world cultures with the complex chordal harmony prevalent in jazz and classical music.
“What I’m trying to do in my music is mix Near Eastern, Balkan, West African, Celtic, Caribbean and South American music concepts with a deep harmonic sense not usually associated with music from these regions.” Steen has a deep respect for the various cultures throughout the world, so with the intention of preserving each culture’s essence, he is careful to duplicate its rhythms and textures as accurately as possible. This can be seen in his use of such exotic instruments as the oud (fretless lute), bouzouki (fretted lute with long neck), duduk (double reed, wind instrument), kawala (reed flute), cavaqhino (similar to ukelele), Uilleann pipes and a multitude of percussion instruments along with standard Western instruments. The result is a rich melange of “world jazz” that is ethnically authentic yet interpreted and composed in an entirely new way. Although electric and acoustic basses are his main instruments, Steen usually composes on piano in order to best utilize his extensive knowledge of harmony, thus showcasing his unique style.
In creating "View From Afar," Steen enlisted not only the talents of jazz luminaries Ernie Watts, Robben Ford and Russell Ferrante (of The Yellowjackets), but of notable “world” musicians as well who originate from Russia, Greece, Armenia, Israel, Lebanon, Brazil and Venezuela. The ten tracks of the recording were composed, arranged and produced entirely by Steen with the exception of two that were cowritten with pianist Tamir Hendelman (featured on the CD), another that was coproduced with woodwind player Katisse Buckingham (also featured), and three others that were arrangements stemming from traditional sources.
Prior to producing his two solo efforts, Steen made a name for himself in Los Angeles music circles as a remarkably versatile instrumentalist. His ability to excel on both fretted and fretless electric bass along with jazz and classical double bass brought him tour work with such top name entertainers as Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester and Engelbert Humperdinck. He has also performed with a variety of artists, including Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Rosemary Clooney, Stevie Wonder, Mose Allison, Eric Marienthal, Dave Weckl, Louis Bellson, Jack Sheldon, Bennie Maupin, Billy Childs, Bob Sheppard, Jimmy Buffet, the Coasters, Cameroonian pop star Prince Eyango and renowned Persian pop singers Ebi and Dariush... to name a few. He is a member of Hollywood Klezmer (formerly the Brandeis-Bardin International Klezmer Ensemble), a double bass soloist featured two years in a row with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, and an orchestra bassist who has performed with the Broadway touring companies of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Music of the Night” (starring Melissa Manchester and Betty Buckley), “Forty-Second Street,” and the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities.
His recording credits include the film "Swingers" and various independents, CDs such as "The Stan Kenton 50th Anniversary Celebration: Back to Balboa" (with Frank Strazzeri and Bill Perkins) and "The Songs of G.H." (Disney Records), as well as numerous television and radio spots that include "Roswell," "Providence," "Felicity," "Once and Again," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Power Rangers," "General Hospital," "Entertainment Tonight," A.B.C./Disney library music, Mitsubishi, Apple Computers, Blue Cross of California and Contadina. He also has recorded “on spec” for the Verve and A&M record labels.
Steen won first place in the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition after graduating Magna Cum Laude in Studio Music and Jazz from the University of Miami where, aside from his rigorous jazz curriculum, he studied classical double bass with Lucas Drew. His undergraduate studies also included two years at the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston. He continued his education at the California Institute of the Arts (CALARTS), where he studied with celebrated bassists Gary Willis and Jeff Berlin, receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree in Jazz and African-American Music Performance. Other honors include the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) annual Special Award granted to him every year since 1997 and being a finalist in the Jazz Composer Alliance’s 2001 Julius Hemphill Composition Awards.
“I believe that music is an expression of ourselves, of humanity. It transcends language and national borders. This explains why one can be so moved by a vocalist singing in a foreign language that one doesn’t understand... because on a deeper level, one does understand. Music is the expression of life’s beauty... it’s not always pretty, and it’s certainly not perfect. I like to think that my music encompasses these different dynamics. I hope people will be moved in some way by my music... ideally on all three levels - the intellectual, emotional and spiritual. I want their everyday existence to be uplifted. Music is so powerful in its ability to promote spirituality or interconnectedness. By bringing together the music of various cultures throughout the world, I hope I can make a difference in bringing the world a bit closer together.”
In addition to the world music mentioned earlier, Steen cites influences of The Yellowjackets, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jean-Luc Ponty (“Tchokola” recording), the Brecker Brothers, Pat Metheny, Oregon, Chick Corea, Trilok Gurtu and Billy Childs. He also listens to classical music (Debussy, Chopin, Stravinsky, Bartok, to name a few) as well as funk-R&B and pop (especially James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Sting, Seal and Level 42). Bassists he admires include John Patitucci, Marcus Miller, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, Eddie Gomez and Marc Johnson, as well as bebop pioneers Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Oscar Pettiford. “It only makes sense that my music is a natural progression [in the evolution of jazz].”
When not busy with the Larry Steen World Jazz Ensemble, Steen freelances as a studio and live musician in a variety of styles and teaches part time at the Musician’s Institute (MI) in Hollywood, California, privately, and as a clinician. He resides in Hollywood and enjoys numerous hobbies, including photography, travel and nature.