It’s all about to come full circle for the Steve Koven Trio. The jazz group is celebrating its 20th anniversary with special performances in May at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto, the site of the group’s debut album.
Their debut album was recorded live at the Top o’ the Senator, which closed eight years ago and has since reopened as the Jazz Bistro. The band has now released its ninth album, 20
“Here we are celebrating our 20th anniversary at the home of the old Top o’ the Senator, where we recorded our first CD,” Koven said. “That’s pretty cool.”
Koven, who writes the songs and plays piano, admits that he’s been really lucky since he was introduced to bassist Rob Clutton and drummer Anthony Michelli 20 years ago.
“Not too many bands have stayed together for 20 years. Just us and the Rolling Stones,” Koven quips.
“We work well together. Music isn’t just about playing notes – it’s about respect, admiration, and the willingness to share and listen to each other.”
Included with the new CD is a bonus 20-minute DVD that documents the band’s history.
One of the highlights for the band in the past 20 years has been representing Canada in several cultural festivals all over the world.
Just recently, for instance, the band played El Cervantino, one of the largest cultural festivals in North America, held in Guanajuato, Mexico. “We represented Canada and were the only Canadian act,” he says. “We were in the middle of Mexico – not in a resort town, in the core. It’s an amazing place. That was a big, big one for us.”
The trio has been performing international events for around 15 years. “We started to establish relationships with embassies and high commissions around the world, and then word got out that the Steve Koven Trio is a good representative of Canada.” Now, the embassies and high commissions contact the band whenever an event comes up.
“Along with this comes a huge responsibility,” Koven admits. “We are representing Canada on international stages, and you have to go to these events and dinners and cocktail receptions and interact with people and government officials. We’ve done a lot of work representing Canada. It’s a great label to have.”
The trio has played in Barbados, Bahamas, Jamaica, Japan, Ecuador, Colombia, China and several other countries.
Along with performances, these cultural events often include an educational component. The band holds seminars and workshops for university students and even younger children on musical improvisation and self-expression. All three of the musicians are instructors at York University.
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” Koven said. I’d never dreamed that I’d be performing worldwide and representing Canada on the international stage.”
Travelling also provides Koven with plenty of inspiration for songwriting.
“I get to these countries and get exposed to the way people interact, their food, environment, and you want to capture that through a camera, through video, or through a song or a story. I try to capture one element and use that in my compositions.”
At the same time, Koven’s developed a love-hate relationship with travel. “I’ll be at the airport before leaving and I always say to the band, ‘10 more sleeps to get home.’ As Dorothy said, ‘there’s no place like home.’”
The opening song on 20 is Cervantino, a song inspired by the festival in Mexico. The CD also features two songs, Bongo Bob and Artists, written as part of his thesis for his master’s degree in music composition, which he completed at York recently in his late 40s.
“It was a personal challenge,” Koven said. “I’ve been avoiding it for years, worried about failure. It’s the greatest thing I’ve done at this stage in my life.”
His thesis included writing 10 songs based on inspirations from 10 paintings. “I became a better writer. I’m now doing lectures in Barbados about using visual art to help inspire musical compositions and to give the kids inspiration.”
The CD features 10 original compositions by Koven. “It borrows from many traditions,” he said. “I’m not interested in playing standards. I wanted to write music for this CD that represents where I am in my life. I wanted to venture out and borrow from any element.
“There’s very little about swing, there’s a lot of pop-oriented songs, soul, R&B. I don’t like to call it jazz. Anything you put a label to is very limiting. I want to write nice melodies and music that I feel is me.”
Over the years, several of his songs have been featured in TV shows and films. “My music is very conducive for that,” he says.
The Steve Koven Trio performs at the Jazz Bistro on May 2, 3 and 4. They also perform frequently at the Pantages Martini Bar. For more information, visit www.stevekoven.com.