Steve Elmer

Primary Instrument: Piano

Born: October 6, 1941    

Steve Elmer

COMPOSER/PIANIST STEVE ELMER is an expressive and creative musician of growing acclaim. He describes his musical approach as “Classic Jazz: Play the melody, improvise, tell a story, and make it swing.”

Once called “the most anonymous piano player in New York” by a respected jazz pianist impressed by Elmer’s playing, he is now the recipient of praise from jazz publications and musicians throughout the nation. Jazz Times says “He plays with the ferocity of a man with no more time to waste.” says “The music is gorgeous. Each song is treated like the only song and you get wrapped up in each one like it's a novel you don't want to put down. Even without lyrics you can feel the story behind the music. “ All About Jazz-Los Angles says “Pianist Elmer has imbibed from Bud Powell’s well, and has come up with a bucket overflowing with some hard hitting and vibrant bop. Elmer’s touch is sharp and assertive, confident and clean. “...
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The Steve Elmer Trio Jazz Life - Live @ Cleopatra's Needle, NYC

“Simply a snappy set of solid playing and smart originals that seem to have been designed purely to make you feel good. They hit the mark with room to spare.”

Midwest Record, October 2010

“The newest CD by Steve Elmer and his regular trio. This marks the third CD by this trio. Elmer's elegant, experienced piano, indeed a textbook of straight ahead piano, Shingo Okudiara's drums, a great balance of delicacy and boldness and Hide Tanaka's sticky groove pulls the trio together. The chemistry between the members produce a sense of flexibility and freedom, only possible from a regular trio. Truly, a New York Style orthodox piano trio.” (Translated from Japanese)

Ventu Azul Diary, October 2010

The Steve Elmer Trio / Fire Down Below

“Steve Elmer was originally a drummer. He took his first piano lessons from Lennie Tristano in the mid-1960s, when he was 25. Between 1976 and 1991 he stopped playing music professionally. Fire Down Below is Elmer's fourth recoding as a leader, and his second with his current trio (bassist Hide Tanaka, drummer Shingo Okudaira). He plays piano with the ferocity of a man with no more time to waste. He also plays piano like a former drummer. He sounds propelled by a powerful internal rhythmic engine.

“Elmer studied with Tristano but did not follow his path. He is an unapologetically straightahead player whose first (and second, and third) priority is to swing his ass off. It is hard to think of a piano trio album less concerned with variety and sequencing. Fire Down Below is one burner after another.

“Elmer wrote all 10 tunes. They are predictable but well crafted. (Horace Silver might have composed the funky, catchy Big Chief Red Cloud.) Elmer's rhythm section is sharp and hot. Tanaka's Hideout features the bassist's slithering pizzicato and sweetly screeching arco, and is the freshest piece on the alubum. Both Tanaka and Okudaira are able to match Elmer's frantic energy, no mean trick.”

Jazz Times, September, 2008

“Forget the big names; Fire Down Below, the new album by pianist and composer Steve Elmer and his excellent trio, will knock your socks off. Monkishly playful in terms of style (especially on GA's Jambalaya), Elmer is unfailingly compelling when he solos. His band is also first rate. Hide Tanaka contributes a beaufiful arco bass solo on Constant Lee, and Shingo Okudira is a powerful driver on drums throughout. Unltimately what may be most impressive about Elmer is his compositional skill; these are great tunes and they just keep coming. The title cut is an absolute knock-out with a wonderfully catchy head and then it's off to the races. With lightning speed and absolute harmonic precision, Elmer makes Big Brown seems like a turtle. When he slows down for a gorgeous ballad lke Lasting Love, he is equally impressive in his subtlety. And, most importantly, he is totally unpredictable. If you've never heard of Steve Elmer it's your loss.”, August, 2008

“Steve Elmer presents a program of entirely original music with his latest release, entitled Fire Down Below. His skills as both a pianist and a composer are on full display on each and every tune. Neither disappoints. He and his trio play in the modern, post-bop style that captured my heart as soon as I heard it. Through a program of well varied material, the band of Steve Elmer, bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Shingo Okudaira swing with a burnin' fire that suggests the disc's title.

“The disc opens with “Sister Joan,” a medium-up swing number. Elmer's love of McCoy Tyner is clearly evident in his use of bass pedals. The tune is bluesy but energetic. Elmer and Tanaka take impressive solos, followed by a spirited round of trading by Elmer and Okudaira. “Silhouette” is a bossaesque tune which features extended bass and piano solos. The groove is relaxed and comfortable. The spirit of McCoy Tyner lives again with “Constant Lee,” which again features a bass pedal. The tempo is medium-up and the melody is bop- flavored. “GA's Jambalaya” brings to mind another piano player; the one and the only Thelonious Monk. The tune is set in a medium tempo with a loping swing feel. The title tune is a burnin' fast swing tune. The band swings hard throughout and each member is featured in an extended solo as well as shorter traded solos. A nice contrast is drawn with the next tune, a gentle ballad entitled “Lasting Love,” which serves as a piano feature.

The program continues with “Delicate Balance,” a bouncy waltz. The tune also makes use of bass pedals. Both Elmer and Tanaka are featured. The humorously titled ”Tanaka's Hideout” features the bassist for which it is named. This is an eclectic tune, set at a very slow tempo. Tanaka plays the haunting theme of the tune. His solo is first-rate. “Big Chief Red Cloud” is set up by fast Latin drums. When the band comes in, the melody is unexpectedly catchy and pop-flavored. Elmer takes a solo and features Okudaira in a solo played”over” the band. The disc closes with “Aaronology,” a medium tempo bop-floavored swing tune, with hits for the band to swing through, which they do in incomparable style. Each member is featured in the all-out jam.

“Fire Down Below is a disc that grabs you from the beginning with a high dynamic and energy level. The level drops a bit as the tunes take the listener on a journey but the fire is still there, down below (if I may be allowed a pun). The silly play on words is appropriate, however, when one considers the constant energetic pulse that lays behind this music, even on its most relaxed tunes. The musicianship of the trio is top-notch and the band obviously has built a comfortable rapport. The benefits of this are tight ensemble playing that simply has nowehre to hide in the unforgiving format of the piano trio. The real payoff, of course, is how great Fire Down Below sounds.”

Jazz Improv Magazine, August, 2008

“Steve Elmer was a drummer prior to entering Manhattan School of Music, though he eventually switched to piano after studying privately for six years with Lennie Tristano while also working on a BS in Music Education at Hofstra University. After earning a master's degree at Queen's College, Elmer taught there for several years and served as Director of Jazz Studies with Frank Foster, though he quit playing music professionally between 1976 and 1991, holding a variety of other jobs. But the jazz bug was still present, so he returned to serve as musical director and pianist for The Jazz Mentality, which also featured saxophonist Chris Potter, recording two CDs with the group before it disbanded. Fire Down Below is Elmer's second release leading a trio with bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Shingo Okudaira, leading them through an extensive tour of Japan in early 2007. The pianist penned ten originals for these 2008 sessions. Constant Lee is an intense reworking of the chord changes to What Is This Thing Called Love, dedicated to one of Tristano's prize pupils, Lee Konitz. GA's Jambalaya is a loping, playful tune with an infectious hook. Fire Down Below races to the finish in a furious workout, while the low key, bluesy Tanaka's Hideout was conceived as a feature for his bassist, who shows his humorous side during his engaging solo. This is a rewarding date by a veteran player deserving of wider recognition.”

AMG All Music Guide (, August, 2008

“A relative newcomer to recording (Fire Down Below is only his second trio release), Steve Elmer is a late- sexagenarian who's been playing since his early teens. With the help of Hide Tanaka and Drummer Shingo Okudaira, the disc showcases the pianist's compositional talent and classically-honed chops. Elmer has a lot to say, packing the tracks with fully fleshed-out textures...and the tunes provide effective templates for the trio's dense, cohesive sound. Tanaka's bass is particularly prominent in the mix; given additional room to stretch out, he takes full advantage of it on “Tanaka's Hideout.” Okudaira's contribution is immense, including his relaxed but authoritative swing on the burner “GA's Jambalaya,” delicate brushwork on “Lasting Love,” and tom-tom ad-libs on “Big Chief Red Cloud.”

All About Jazz

“In last month's issue, drummer Louis Bellson stated that the last major contribution to jazz was bebop. If you are in agreement with that statement, you will be in heaven with Steve Elmer's Fire Down Below. Pianist Elmer has imbibed from Bud Powell's well, and has come up with a bucket overflowing with some hard hitting and vibrant bop. Elmer's touch is sharp and assertive, confident and clean. On the Monkish pieces like “GA's Jambalaya” and ”Sister Joan,” he attacks the ivories with joy and insouciance. The piano sounds like it's charging out of the gate at the derby on the steady galloping title piece and “Aaronology. Elmer's Horace Silver-like touch on the tensile ballad “Lasting Love,” is filled with resilient ringing notes. All through this vivacious recording, Elmer's trio is running on all eight cylinders, with Shingo Okudaira's flexible drumming most apparent on “Big Chief Red Cloud.” This trio of Elmer, Okudaira and bassist Hide Tanaka has got a ton of energy and they use it to the fullest to the listener's delight. Elmer's musical heart is in the right place. His Fire Down Below has plenty.”

All About Jazz

“Fire Down Below is a new record from the Steve Elmer Trio. The group is comprised of Steve Elmer (no surprise there), Hide Tanaka, and Shingo Okudaira. They've been together since 2005 and released one record before this one called I Used To Be Anonymous.

“The music is gorgeous. Maybe this sounds amateurish (I must admit I'm a novice in the jazz field) but the piano sounds like old Gershwin piano rolls, only much more energetic. It's evident that the group placed genuine care into each track. Each song is treated like the only song and you get wrapped up in each one like it's a novel you don't want to put down. Even without lyrics you can feel the story behind the music.

“Okudaira's drumming is spot on. The patterns he plays on the cymbals during “Silhouette” are phenomenal. In fact, the drumming is brilliant on this entire recording. Rolls and accents are outstanding but it's the cymbals that really stood out. There's just some beautiful sticking on these songs. The same can be said of the bass. It struts underneath the proficient drums and the sparkling piano just to remind everyone of how cool the songs are.

“The title track, “Fire Down Below,” is a frenetic showpiece of how well these three play together. It's got a fast pace and nobody misses a beat. The drum solo was an abosolute joy to hear; the piano progressions were outstanding; Tankaka must have worn his fingers out keeping the bass pace he did. “Lasting Love” is the next track and it brings the tempo down, offering a relaxing and touching journey.

“It's an album to check out. You'll be taken with it for a while.”

BlogCritics.Org, June 4, 2008

“Steve Elmer began his musical career as a drummer but at age 25 started taking piano lessons with the iconoclastic Lennie Tristano. His playing is a conglameration of the percussive nature he learned from drumming and the various influences he absorbed from careful listening over the years. He is an accomplished technician who seems more at ease on hard-driving compositions. His phraseology slyly borrows from many sources without amounting to grand theft. At times his sound is reminiscent of Monk, but with a more fluid sense of swing. The clipped phrasing of his keyboard work is complemented nicely by a very tight, sympathetic rhythm secrion, which smoothly shaves off any burrs. Hide Tanaka's bass produces an especially full round tone that is particularly well suited in contrast to Elmer's sharp and at times steely. sound.

“On “Sister Joan,” Elmer's lead-in line evokes Monk's ”Well, You Needn't,” which to me always seems to brilliantly keep you wondering where he was going. In contrast, Elmer's compositions have a comforting sense of direction, making his writing less groundbreaking, but he and his compatriots exectue with such polished presence that the finished product is both enjoyable and passionate. Steve Elmer has been called the most anonymous pianist in New York. With this offering, he may find himself at last discovered.”

Jazz.Com, “Sister Joan,” Song of the Day, May 19, 2008

“On this second recorded outing for Steve Elmer's trio, the leader's composition “Fire Down Below” is an up- tempo romp. His impressively brisk runs give you the feeling you are scurrying up and down a flight of stairs - perhaps to get more water. Elmer is quite at home with single-note demonstrations and chordal shading as well. Several times he duels with himself in solo calls and responses. Tanaka and Okudaira are no slouch of a rhythm section, either. At breakneck speeds, they control this firefighting emergency effort. Tanaka turns the nozzle to maximum pressure for his featured spot. Okudaira throws some more water into the cause with some heavy beats in between his perfectly paced cymbal work. This was either a big fire or the guys just can't put it out. Either way, the energy exerted and the taseful skill with which it is harnessed makes for some fine music.”

Jazz.Com, “Fire Down Below,” May 19,2008.

“This is a cat that likes to swing and he likes to swing so much that he has the brass to come with a set of originals just so he can come from nowhere and leave his fingerprints on the genre. A cat that knows how it's done and knows his way around how to swing, he brings his cats with him and cracks the whip, but not as a meanikin. Sometimes you need mor than reissues to stay interested and this is sure to get your ears perked up.”

MidwestRecord.Com, May 16, 2008

“Completely original, this CD has enough music to keep me busy re-listening to it for months. From the straight ahead swingers “Sister Joan” and “Aaronology” to the depth of “Lasting Love” and “Silhouette” to the highly charged “Constant Lee” and “Fire Down Below,” as well as the other four selections, this is a musical statement that will stand the test of time as has other great piano trios. Buy it and listen - but prepare to give it the time it deserves.”

CD Baby, May 1, 2008

The Steve Elmer Trio / I Used To Be Anonymous

“I Used To Be Anonymous” by the Steve Elmer Trio is well-played and well-titled. Before Elmer sent this disc for review, he was certainly anonymous to me. I am usually wary of albums of originals, especially by players that I do not know. Well, here is a collection of originals that is wonderfully ear-catching. Elmer has swing in his blood and his compatriots are cut from the same cloth. It is always nice to find a new artist to enjoy, and such is the case with Steve Elmer.”

Jersey Jazz Magazine

”The Steve Elmer Trio turns a number of catchy and melodic originals that serve as platforms for amiable swing. It’s the kind of thing you’d be delighted to hear at your local club. Elmer’s a likeable player favoring bright melodies but investing these with rhythmic snap and sensibility that is nicely varied. It’s really got the feel of a ‘50s Red Garland session or something of similar vintage. If you happen to spot this one, do give it a shot.”

Cadence Magazine

”New York pianist Steve Elmer’s CD “I Used to Be Anonymous” features the pianist performing nine original compositions all dedicated to friends or artists who have inspired him. The trio plays with an easy familiarity and loose ensemble feel that compliments the compositions. Elmer’s playing throughout is in the pocket, cleverly harmonic, and solidly rhythmic. His solos feature nice block-chordish moments ala Erroll Garner while at other moments he swings in a manner reminiscent of artists like Bill Evans.”

Jazz Review

”Steve Elmer is not a well known name in jazz, at least until recently. He is, however, a solid pianist and fine composer. This trio swings at all tempos. Their joy is palpable. I look forward to their next recording. Throughout the disc Elmer remains true to his mantra Classic Jazz: Play the original song, improvise on the melody, harmony, and the form. Tell a story and make it swing one way or another.”

Jazz Improv Magazine

”I liked the CD as a whole more than any particular cut. You know, usually I gotta hear one tune over and over when I first play a record. It’s only after I have that one song in my skin that I can get to the rest of the music; but not with the Elmer trio. I turn it on and it’s sixty minutes of a one song suite to me. Sometimes I play it all day long. Don’t get me wrong: the tunes are as different and distinct as they can be. Elmer is a composer who writes gorgeous stuff and the trio really breaks out, but every song is connected by Elmer’s definition of classic jazz. Play the original song, improvise on the melody, harmony, and the form. Tell a story and make it swing one way or another. In a word, the cat’s a real jazz musician.”

Unlikely Stories (

”This is the real thing, straight ahead swinging classic jazz. There are very few players who can invent like Steve Elmer, play long lines that make total sense, and swing like mad. The rapport in the rhythm section is a thing of beauty. This is jazz as it should be. Listen.”

CD Baby Reviewer (

”We think this one’s a quiet killer, a must have. One of the 10 best in 2006.”

O’s Place Jazz Newsletter (

  • Fire Down Below

    Self Produced

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