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As a multi-instrumentalist, record producer and musical director, Steve Jordan has left his imprint on numerous projects and artists. He has dedicated his entire being and talent to the art of groove making for over 35 years, no matter the role he’s been cast to perform. However, it has been through his tremendous ability to play drum-set that we’ve come to love and respect him. The groove is here!
Steve Jordan comes from a musical family. His father, an architect, was a great jazz buff and a huge Miles Davis fan. His mother was into singing classical music before she became an educational motivator. Hence, Steve Jordan grew up surrounded by the great music of geniuses like Miles Davis and James Brown. He was also really into bands like The Coasters.
“I used to collect records when I was two years old?I was like the family DJ. [laughs] I had my little record collection, and I would carry around my records at the family get-together. They got a kick out of that. And they would try to figure out how I knew what records I was playing. I couldn’t read, but I would identify the labels.” – Steve Jordan in Steve Jordan Interview by Billy Amendola, Modern Drummer Magazine Website, 2005.
The first drummer Steve Jordan was impressed by was non-other than Ringo Starr. After watching him perform he became a huge Beatles fan. Al Jackson and Benny Benjamin ensued, due to Steve Jordan’s love for Motown music. Paul Kimbarrow was one of the first guys Steve Jordan ever saw play live. It was at a school event, and much like Ringo Starr, Paul’s drumming fueled Steve’s appreciation for drum-set playing.
Steve Jordan began playing drums at the age of eight, the age at which his grandmother gave him a snare drum. However, there was a deal attached to the gift: he could only keep the snare drum if he took drum lessons. And so he did.
Steve Jordan’s first teacher was a guy he knew simply as Mr. Matt. After working on his reading abilities with Mr. Matt for a while, Steve Jordan found in Joel Cal his first big influential drum teacher. He was 12 years old at the time.
“The first time I met with him, he sat me behind a set of blue sparkle Gretsch drums and I was freaking out, looking at all the mechanisms and everything. I thought I was going to get down. He asked me if I was really interested in doing the work to become a good musician. Of course, I was into it. When I got back there the next week, there were no drums in the room—just two practice pads. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. But Joey told me this was what we’d have to do to get to those drums. So we went through Sam Ulano’s books before we got to Joe Morello’s books.” – Steve Jordan in Steve Jordan: Web Exclusive by Michael Dawson, Modern Drummer Magazine Website, August, 2010.
As soon as the snare drum was bestowed upon him, Steve Jordan was issued a challenge by his father: learn to play Art Blakey‘s “Blues March.” To further motivate him to accept the challenge, Steve Jordan’s father told him that learning that song would enable him to play anything on the drums. Steve Jordan took on the challenge, and the “Blues March” became the first song he ever learned to play.
Steve Jordan’s next instructor was Ted Brown, a very supportive music teacher from the junior high school he went to. Ted Brown was another key figure in Steve Jordan’s development as a musician. When Steve Jordan graduated, Mr. Brown gave him a set of brand-new Zildjian cymbals. It was a very generous gift that Steve Jordan used for a lot of recordings.
Due to his love for horn bands like Kool & The Gang and Mandrill, Steve Jordan began playing trombone in junior high school. He wanted to play like Fred Wesley but didn’t stick with the instrument for long. The trombone wasn’t the only non-percussive instrument Steve Jordan would experiment with in his formative years.
“The music I listened to always had great songwriting. I grew up listening to The Beatles, Miles Davis, Sly And The Family Stone, James Brown, Motown, Stax?. The fusion of me loving orchestral music and jazz, rock, or anything that was good, led me to get a guitar. Later my mom got me this classical guitar, and I taught myself (…) Over the years, as I got to know all these great guitar players, I’d pick things up from them. My love for playing the guitar would lead me to collecting them.” – Steve Jordan in Steve Jordan Interview by Billy Amendola, Modern Drummer Magazine Website, 2005.
Steve Jordan’s interest in music would ultimately lead him to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts, New York, United States. There, Steve Jordan studied as a classical percussionist having timpani as his main instrument. He played orchestral percussion for a while, before switching to the drum set. Steve Jordan got his first drum set around this time: a Rogers student-kit with a single-tension bass drum and a clip-on rack tom, to which he added a hi-hat shortly thereafter.
Steve Jordan’s next big influence was jazz drummer Freddie Waits. They met at Jazz Interactions, LaGuardia’s after-school music program, when Steve was 16 years old. The idea behind it was getting accomplished musicians to teach in a class open to students from all over the city. Steve Jordan was so eager to learn, that he and Freddie Waits struck up a relationship and began working together. Freddie Waits taught Steve Jordan privately for a while, showing him what he needed to do to become a professional musician. Soon enough the lessons turned into counseling: Steve Jordan played while Freddie listened and watched carefully so he could guide him.
Other drummers that influenced Steve Jordan greatly include Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones, Steve Ferrone, Floyd Sneed, Paul Humphries, “Funky” George Brown, Carlton Barrett, Jack DeJohnette, Buddy Miles, Neftali Santiago, Sandy McKee, David Garibaldi, Elbert Woodson, Bill “Beau Dollar” Bowman, Howard Grimes, Bobby Ramirez, James Gadson, Andrew Smith, Robin Russell, Freddie White, Tyrone McCullen, Pete Rivera, Earl Palmer, Grady Tate, Roger Hawkins and Sonny Payne, among many others.
After graduating from high-school, Steve Jordan’s drumming career began–and it began with a bang. At the age of 18 he became the drummer for the Saturday Night Live (SNL) band.
“I played a gig with [guitarist] John Tropea that featured two drummers: Steve Gadd and myself. I was so nervous during the rehearsals that I couldn’t even play. I remember setting up at the Bottom Line–the place was packed, and people were murmuring, “Who’s that?” At any rate, the adrenalin kicked in and I played really well. It was a phenomenal evening. And that was how I landed the Saturday Night Live gig.” – Steve Jordan in “Drums With Depth”, Yamaha All Access, Issue 11, Winter 2006.
However, things weren’t going as great outside of SNL. Steve Jordan wasn’t called for that many recording sessions–he was a B-lister. Guys like Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta and Chris Parker were the A-listers, the guys who were called for every recording session. It would take a massive snowstorm in New York in 1977 to take Steve Jordan’s career to a completely new level.
All the A-listers lived outside of New York City, in Woodstock or Rochester, so they couldn’t get into town. Since Steve Jordan lived in the city he was called for the sessions those other drummers couldn’t get to. He played for a lot of records within two or three weeks’ time. He did so well in those sessions that he began working a lot more.
SNL is a late-night television sketch comedy and variety show that premiered in 1975 and is broadcasted to this day. The sketches are performed by a large and varying cast and a celebrity guest–a different one per episode. In 1978, two of its cast members, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, created The Blues Brothers, a blues and soul revival-band, as part of a musical sketch.
The Blues Brothers eventually became a musical act on their own right. Due to Steve Jordan’s position as drummer for SNL, he was invited to drum for The Blues Brothers. Steve Jordan played for the first three Blues Brothers releases: Briefcase Full of Blues (1978), which reached number 1 on the Billboard 200; The Blues Brothers: Music From The Soundtrack (1980), Made In America (1980) and Best of The Blues Brothers (1981).
The Blues Brothers are one of the many high-profile artists Steve Jordan has recorded/ played for. Late Night with David Letterman; Patti Austin’s Havana Candy (1977); Cat Stevens’ Back To Earth (1978); Spyro Gyra’s Morning Dance (1979); Carnaval (1980) and City Kids (1983); John Scofield’s Who’s Who (1979) and Electric Outlet (1984); Aretha Franklin’s Aretha (1980); The Brecker Brothers’ Detente (1980); Bonnie Tyler’s Faster Than the Speed of Night (1983); George Benson’s In Your Eyes (1983); Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero (1983); Stevie Nicks’ Rock a Little (1985); Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work (1986); Toto’s Fahrenheit (1986); The Pretenders’ Get Close (1986); Neil Young’s Landing on Water (1986); Bob Dylan’s Down In The Groove (1988), Keith Richards’ Talk Is Cheap (1988), Live at the Hollywood Palladium (1991) and Main Offender (1992); James Taylor’s New Moon Shine (1991); Sheryl Crow’s C’mon, C’mon (2002); Alicia Keys’ The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003) and Bruce Springsteen’s Devils & Dust (2005), are just a few of the projects Steve Jordan has worked on as a drummer.
In the 1980s Steve Jordan began developing work as a producer. After years of collaborating with engineers and producers who ultimately butchered his sound and drum tracks, respectively, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I became a producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist because I found that I would play on something that we all thought was going to be fantastic, and when the record came out, it would be mixed terribly. Or after we cut the rhythm track, they would overdub too much on it. Not to mention the fact that the record company maybe didn’t get it. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to stretch out.” – Steve Jordan in Steve Jordan Interview by Billy Amendola, Modern Drummer Magazine Website, 2005.
Since then, Steve Jordan has done a great deal of work as both a record producer and drummer. John Mayer is one of the musicians he has spent more time working with as a producer. Steve Jordan played drums for Heavier Things (2003) and worked as a producer and drummer for Continuum (2006), Battle Studies (2009) and for the John Mayer Trio’s debut album Try! (2005).
Steve Jordan has also worked as a producer and drummer for John Scofield’s That’s What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (2005), Herbie Hancock’s Possibilities (2005) and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger (2011), among many other projects. Steve Jordan has earned a Grammy Award for Robert Crays’ Take Your Shoes Off (1999) and was nominated for a Grammy for his work in Buddy Guy’s Bring ‘Em In (2005).
Along his impressive résumé as a drummer and producer, Steve Jordan has developed work as a musical director (MD) as well. He has musically directed high-profile projects like the Super Bowl XL, Kennedy Center Honors and the Martin Scorsese/Antoine Fuqua documentary Lightning in a Bottle (2004).
Steve Jordan has also formed a band with his wife Meegan Voss, The Verbs. They toured Japan in 2006 in support of their first release, And Now… The Verbs. They followed their debut album with Trip.
“Simplicity is not stupidity. Just because something sounds simple or is easy to play, in your mind, doesn’t mean it is dumb.” – Steve Jordan in the DVD The Groove Is Here, 2002.
Since the inception of the drum machine in the 1980s, we’ve seen the awakening of a new breed of highly developed drummers in what concerns limb independence, speed, and control. Drumming heroes like Thomas Lang and Marco Minnemann, among many others, have set new standards in what’s possible to achieve with a drum set. With their intricate but precise drumming they’ve earned legions of admirers who strive for those kinds of chops and facility on a daily basis.
This new trend and fascination with cutting-edge drumming has, in a way, hindered simple groove playing for many drummers. Playing basic stuff is sometimes perceived as irrelevant or just too simple to justify spending serious time practicing it. If you can play very intricate patterns with your four limbs at the same time, why bother spending time with the basic 8th note rock beat?
In essence, most of us know how to play simple grooves with little effort. The question here is, “how well do you play them?” If you don’t spend time practicing these grooves, and most important of all, trying them out with different feels, you won’t be able to play them at a high level, ever. It’s easy to play simple grooves, but it’s hard to play them very well and make them sound amazing. That’s the showing of a great drummer: making simple things sound like a million bucks. Playing simple grooves at a high level is what will put food on your table if you’re focused on becoming a hiring gun for studio work or touring.
Much like Steve Jordan stated in his DVD, don’t ever feel discouraged about playing basic grooves. If the music calls for it, why play anything different? It’s all about what’s the best option for a given track. If it requires blazing fast licks played between all four limbs, go for it. Being able to do both is awesome! Also, there are plenty of options to spice up even the most mundane of patterns out there. Adding ghost notes, hi-hat barks, and breaking-up your hi-hat patterns will take you far and work on your creativity.
Another great way of challenging yourself with basic grooves is playing them throughout whole songs. No fills, just groove. Playing the same groove consistently and with the right feel for so long is very hard. Focus on the feel and really lock in with the rest of the band. The more you do this, the better your groove and consistency will be.
Not taking basic grooves for granted and focusing on consistency and feel is what has made of Steve Jordan such a loved drummer. You see, the feel Steve Jordan puts into each track is so deep that’s it’s extremely difficult to recreate. It’s actually his feel that has made him such a sought after drummer.
If you’d like to acquire a feel similar to Steve Jordan’s, we’d highly encourage you to play along tracks he’s featured in. There’s actually a great free drum lesson on DrumLessons.com that will really help you work on your feel. Check “Developing Groove On The Drums” to see what we mean.
Steve Jordan is also know as one of the very select few kings of shuffle-playing. If you’re into shuffles and blues, check his work with The Blues Brothers. You’ll find a great collection of shuffles in those recordings. Another drummer you can check out for shuffles is Steve Gadd–another king.
If you’re interested in learning more about Steve Jordan’s drumming and his approach to music, be sure to check his DVD, The Groove Is Here (2002).