top of page
  • Writer's pictureJAM

Steve Million - The Missouri Touch – A Real Songwriter

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

Chicago-based Jazz Pianist, Composer & Educator

Steve Million stands as one of the most accomplished pianists in the modern jazz world. Yet, he has never felt quite there. It’s as if he’s still finding his voice, coming into his own.

Originally from Booneville, Missouri, Steve went on to sow some deep Kansas City roots before arriving in his current home of Chicago, Illinois. These days, Steve is beyond busy, getting his own projects out, which included two new CDs in 2021.

What I Meant to Say was recorded in 2019 by a quartet including old KC friends, drummer Ron Vincent and guitarist Steve Cardenas with bassist John Sims. The other features Steve’s poetry and was recorded with Sarah Marie Young. It is entitled Jazz Words.

"I have been burning the candle at both ends," Steve noted. "I was sitting around the house with my two kids while my wife was in Tokyo for 4 months."

He's a 67-year-old man and remembers very well what lured him into the world of music in the very beginning.

"I was a child of the 60s. I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones & Bob Dylan," said Steve. "The music of that era was pretty good. I still love all of that rock music I grew up with."

His fascination with jazz began with two shows that were complete musical opposites. When he was very young, he saw Count Basie with his mom. He said that Count Basie was very nice to him because he was the only youngster in the crowd. The only other jazz show he saw, was as a senior in high school was when John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra opened a concert for the band Jethro Tull.

"My friend hitchhiked over from Booneville and said he thought the warmup band was going to be really good," Steve mused. "We asked him why and he said that the Mahavishnu Orchestra had picked him up and gave him a ride to the show. He said Billy Cobham was banging on everything in the van just practicing the entire way to KC."

In his small town, he didn't grow up with a robust jazz program. Yet, he had a piano in the house, and he tried to emulate his heroes. He happened to be listening to artists the world of blues. His musical idols at the time were Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Paul Butterfield and Little Milton. The Chicago blues style held a special sway in his soul.

"I was an ear player throughout high school. I taught myself how to write songs," said Steve. "There's a lot of improvisation in blues. I really didn't have any jazz to bounce that off of, (at the time) so that's what I was doing."

After high school, Steve’s parents sent him to The University of North Texas for jazz studies, yet he never felt like he was quite good enough to keep up with everybody. From there, he came back home. He enrolled in the Kansas City Conservatory which is now the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He homed in on his weaknesses and got to be a much better musician. Alas, he dropped out as he began to get some solid gigs around KC.

From there, he moved on to New York City and the plan was that his young daughter and her mother would move up there and join him. That never happened, so he came back to Kansas City.

“Back in KC I got the call to be in Ida McBeth’s band. She was (Kansas City’s) most popular vocalist (at the time) and I couldn't believe it,” Steve said. “Steve Cardenas recommended I be the piano chair and Musical Director with her. I got that gig and we worked in that band for 5 years.” It was there that Million and Steve Cardenas became inseparable musical colleagues.

Even as gigs were consistently happening, he couldn’t shake the youth of his career path.

“My teacher, Fred Hersch (who has recorded more at New York’s Village Vanguard than any other artist) used to always tell me that he was younger than me. But, he started playing professionally when he was 5 years old!” Steve noted, “I was still trying to figure out how to be a professional musician in my mid-20's.”

Even though he has called Chicago home for quite a while, Steve always remembers fondly his time and rapid growth in the Jazz Mecca of Kansas City.

“The thing I loved about Kansas City was the close-knit camaraderie the musicians had. It was a great place to learn how to play,” said Steve. “That's what I was doing when I was there. (Learning how to play.) It was just a great place to cook up your ideas, put bands together and try things out.”

Now, Steve is a cancer survivor and as hard as this pandemic lockdown period was, he said it made him focus more on putting out his own projects. Many had been put on the backburner for years.

“I'm just a guy that likes to write music. I consider myself a real songwriter.” Steve said, “I'm writing songs that I hope someone would like to play someday. I love to write them & figure out how to play them. That's who I have always been. Its a simple concept, but that's it.”

by Joe Dimino

Listen to the full Steve interview here:

107 views0 comments


bottom of page