A superb bassist, a skilled arranger-composer, and an influential educator, Steve Haines has been steadily carving out his own musical path. An exceptional bassist (All About Jazz) and masterful virtuoso (Dick Oatts), “there has always been something about the rhythms and the freedom of jazz that attract me. When I hear really good music, it is difficult for me to concentrate on anything else.”
The bassist’s latest, sprawling accomplishment is his fourth CD as a leader, Steve Haines and the Third Floor Orchestra, which is being released on the Justin Time label. “In some of his projects, Gil Evans had a focal point in his writing around the sound of Miles Davis. For this project, I had the focal points of Becca Stevens, Chad Eby, and Joey Calderazzo. I sought to wrap the orchestra around their sounds like a warm blanket.” The recording features his sublime writing for a full orchestra with fresh and accessible versions of the works of such Canadian composers as Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Kim Mitchell. Becca Stevens contributed two songs and Haines composed two of his own which include not only his music but his lyrics.
Steve Haines grew up in Ottawa, Canada. He studied classical piano for a few years, played tuba for a time, and at 13 began on the electric bass, playing in funk and R&B bands. Steve performed a great deal at the musically renowned J.S. Woodworth High School. Among his early gigs were playing with a trio that, due to its members’ heights, was called Too Tall, One Small (“we played a lot of Jimi Hendrix covers”) and a ten-piece funk band, Bluesberry Pie. He was introduced to jazz by trumpeter Martin Walters, who made him a cassette tape that included recordings by many top jazz giants. Steve switched his focus to acoustic bass when he was 18 and remembers the turning point of his musical life. “When I was in high school, my teacher sent me to a Duke Ellington festival in Ottawa and I got to sit in with the Duke Ellington rhythm section. I had no idea what was happening, but the thrill of feeling the beat led me to decide that that was what I wanted to do with my life. That one experience changed everything.”
Steve earned a B.M. in Jazz Performance from St. Frances Xavier University. “The gregarious Skip Beckwith, my bass teacher, had a big impact on me. One of my early memories of him is when he took my spanking new fake book during my freshmen year and chucked it out the third floor window. He said that if I wanted to really learn this music, I had to use my ears without my eyes. I’ve held on to that learning experience ever since.” He earned his Master’s in Music (Jazz Studies) from the University of North Texas, performing in the One O’Clock Lab Band, and studying with classical virtuoso Jeff Bradetich and the legendary Lynn Seaton.
After his graduation, Steve Haines became the director of the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, a post he held for nearly 20 years. Highlights include developing new classes such as Introduction to Jazz Listening, and recording with artists such as Dewey Redman and Lee Konitz. “I love introducing students to artists who they might not have heard of. At the same time, I’m constantly learning about new musicians and recordings from them.” The honors that Steve has been given for his teaching include being a recipient of the North Carolina Jazz Fellowship, Outstanding Teacher of the Year for the School of Music in 2006, semi-finalist for the 2010 Jazz Knights Commission in New York, and the UNCG Gladys Strewn Bullard Award in 2019 for leadership and service.
Always very active as a bassist, Steve has worked often with such notables as saxophonist Chad Eby, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen, drummers Joe Chambers and Jason Marsalis, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and Joey Calderazzo, as a member of the pianist’s trio and quartet. He has also performed with the late singer Joe Williams, saxophonists Jim Snidero, Joel Frahm, and trombonist Fred Wesley.
Steve Haines’ first album as a leader was 2003’s Beginner’s Mind (Artist’s House Records), a quintet date with trumpeter Rob Smith, tenor saxophonist David Lown, pianist Chip Crawford, and drummer Thomas Taylor that included fresh versions of standards and a few originals. “Chip Crawford had a big influence on the sound of the band with the strong gospel & blues influence in his playing.” Next was Stickadiboom (Zoho) which featured the same group except with the great Jimmy Cobb on drums for six of the eight originals. “It was very special having Jimmy Cobb on the album. He was always the first one to show up, and he inspired everyone.” 2017’s Secret Stash, which includes three of the leader’s originals plus such standards as “The Best Thing For You,” “The Masquerade Is Over” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “ Con Alma,” has the bassist leading a quartet that includes the great guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Thomas Linger, and drummer Larry “Q” Draughn. Steve has also recorded as a member of the Chad Eby Quartet: Broken Shadows (a Cellar Live CD that also features Branford Marsalis, Jason Marsalis and Doug Wamble) and The Sweet Shel Suite: Music Inspired by Shel Silverstein.
Another notable accomplishment was writing the music for the musical Ella: The Life And Music of Ella Fitzgerald. “It was a great honor writing for that musical which has a singer telling stories and singing Ella’s music. The idea was for me to honor the traditions of the great arrangers of the Count Basie Orchestra. The singer first comes out with a trio for which I’m the bass player and then, midway through the musical, the wall behind her disappears in three pieces and there is a big band that I conduct for the remainder of the show.”
Steve Haines, who plays often with the Chad Eby Quartet in North Carolina, works in a trio called Trifecta with pianist Ariel Pocock and trumpeter Thomas Heflin, and has recently performed with Peter Bernstein and Ralph Bowen, certainly keeps busy. “My main goal for the future is to keep learning and staying active.” With the release of Steve Haines and the Third Floor Orchestra, the bassist will certainly be getting more well deserved recognition for his musical talents.