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Steve Knight "Persistence"

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    Posted: 25 Jul 2022 at 7:06pm
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STEVE KNIGHT’s journey from Olathe, KS to Chicago via Oklahoma, South Carolina, New York, and the Caribbean has been anything but linear or predictable. He’s now releasing his debut album, PERSISTENCE, a trio recording featuring seven of his originals as well as several compositions by other artists.
Like most jazz guitarists, Knight was Influenced by the pantheon of jazz greats like Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, and Grant Green, but his greatest inspiration is George Benson. “I don’t like music that seems to be written just for other musicians,” says Knight. “A jazz guitarist is part poet and part athlete. I think Benson strikes the perfect balance. He’s an incredible technician on the guitar, but his music is very accessible for a general audience.”
Indeed, Knight displays his considerable chops on PERSISTENCE, but never overwhelms the listener with mere showmanship. Joined by two stalwarts on the Chicago jazz scene, bassist JUSTIN PETERSON and drummer JEFF STITELY, the trio began playing together during the Covid-19 lockdown, presenting weekly concerts from Knight’s backyard in their idyllic, tree-lined neighborhood. The impromptu jams became concerts with neighbors gathering at the fence and audiences growing quickly and reaching into the park across the street. The Alderman took notice, helped move the concerts to the park, and a whim turned into a weekly event where neighbors still gather with their families to commune enjoying food, dance, drink, and music.
Playing for a live audience over the years gave the band insight into the music that people liked to hear, and the tunes on PERSISTENCE unfolded from those concerts. The album’s title reflects not only Knight’s tenacity at working to make music a viable career, but also the 18 months it took him to finish writing the title track, ”Persistence,” with some help and insight from Jim Trompeter, the successful film and TV composer with whom Knight studied jazz composition. Knight has a special fondness for artists who can successfully transmogrify pop tunes into jazz, and “Persistence” has a pop feel wrapped up in jazz harmonies.
The album’s opening track, “Suspects,” relies on the unresolved, floating nature of suspended chords to create an open atmosphere à la Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Knight’s proclivity for puns in song titles extends from the opener to “Sharps Disposal,” a minor blues in F# minor. The name came to him at the doctor’s office where he saw a needle disposal box labeled “sharps disposal.” Knight includes an alternate version of the tune as the closing number.
“Chop Chop,” a blues blowing vehicle, was directly influenced by Benson’s 1964 tune, “The Cooker.” Knight wrote the funky “Real Type Thing” in 20 minutes before going into the studio. He says, “While ‘Persistence’ took me 18 months to write, I wrote ‘Real Type Thing’ in about 20 minutes. It just seemed to write itself.”
“Just Add Meaning,” among the first songs Knight wrote, was titled somewhat nonchalantly after a conversation with Trompeter led him to remember the line from A Beautiful Mind, the film starring Russell Crowe. Knight wrote “Workshop” during a workshop session led by Peter Bernstein.
Cover songs on the album include “Cisco,” an homage to recently-deceased jazz guitar innovator Pat Martino, another influence of Knight’s. Two pop covers on the album reflect Knight’s belief that jazz can be both audience-friendly and artistically gratifying -- Tom Petty’s big hit “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Change the World,” a tune originally performed by Wynonna Judd that became a hit when Eric Clapton and R&B singer Babyface recorded it. Bassist Justin Peterson contributed “Art’s Rant,” a pseudo jazz march in the vein of Benny Golson’s “Blues March” that introduces an unexpected rhythmic texture to the proceedings
Steve Knight began playing guitar at 12 years old when he traded his skateboard for a Sears guitar with a built-in 9 volt-powered amp. When his parents grounded him for six months for “undisclosed but totally legitimate reasons,” Knight found solace in guitar and developed quickly. 
Knight went to Emporia State University, a small liberal arts college in Kansas, where he majored in theater. Being able to play guitar and read music, however, soon landed him in the orchestra pit for school shows and eventually to the school’s big band. After graduating, he worked in theater as a director and professor while picking up the occasional jazz gig.
Knight eventually moved to New York City for its opportunities to work as a musician and soon after was hired by Carnival Cruise Lines, playing in dance and theatre bands for a year in the Caribbean. Though a “formative and invaluable professional experience,” it also made him realize his true passion lie not in simply playing guitar professionally but doing so within the jazz idiom. Upon his return, he studied with some of the finest jazz artists on the scene today, including Jack Wilkins, Mark Whitfield, and Mark Sherman while working a day job. Looking for a more tenable lifestyle artistically and financially, Knight and his wife moved to Chicago in 2016.
Upon arrival, Knight immediately immersed himself in the jazz scene, attending jam sessions and using social media to connect with other local musicians. He met bandmates Justin Peterson and Jeff Stitely at those jam sessions where they developed a strong rapport. Today, Knight has a busy and rewarding career playing jazz and teaching guitar.
PERSISTENCE will be released August 12, 2022 and will be available everywhere.
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