It’s All About The Bass

By Hugh Carslaw

The Algarve music scene hit the musical jackpot when double bassist Rick Steffens arrived in the Algarve three years ago. His fascinating story recounts performances with many world-famous celebrities and major jazz icons all over the U.S.

On the 3rd of February 1964, a young Rick Steffens watched The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. This was his musical “Road to Damascus” moment. “Ever since that fateful night, I knew I wanted to be a musician.”

Immediately Rick started a group with some school mates and since they needed a bass player and he seemed to “gravitate to the lower register”, he picked up a bass guitar. “I played tuba and bassoon a little at school which probably explains why I was happy to play bass with my pals.”

“At that time I had had no formal music education and, like many other wannabe rock musicians, just played by ear.” Rick studied at the University of Colorado but majored in art, “but my music was always to the fore”. In 1971 he started working with drummer Steve Getz (the son of the famous saxophonist Stan Getz) in his quintet. Multiple gigs in New York were to follow and this set him on the road to full-time performing.

In 1972, he returned to Colorado where he played with a band called Fly and the Zippers. “Although I was playing a lot I still had no formal training so I decided that my next step was to study music ‘properly’.” Rick’s musical studies culminated with a degree from San Jose University. It was soon after this time that he met his wife Victoria. “I was playing in a band one evening when Victoria and a friend came in. We caught each other’s eye and that was it for me.”

“Around 1977, I got a call to play bass with a Grammy-nominated jazz big band. For most of the show, with a thousand people watching, I was able to hang on, but in one long piece, I lost concentration and was not able to get back on track. I ended up feeling a complete idiot. Not only had the bottom of the music fallen out, but so did my heart. I vowed then and there to get my music-reading ability up to a professional level.”

In 1993, Rick moved to San Diego and became the principal bassist with the San Jose Civic Light Opera. “I guess I must have played in 30 different major Broadway musical productions over the years but when I was not playing in orchestras I was always able to play in jazz groups and swing bands.”

Rick set up his own music agency Mirage Music which would organise bands for a variety of functions and performed for major corporations in Palm Springs, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The eye-popping list of celebrities with whom he has performed is equally impressive. “Back then, theatres would have big names performing so I was in the right place at the right time.” Rick found himself playing in orchestras with Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Danny Thomas, Joan Rivers, Smothers Brothers, Mel Carter, Pete Barbutti, Rich Little, Joe Piscopo and Hoyt Axton.

“If I was to pick a few of highlights then at the top of the list would be meeting and jamming with pianist Herbie Hancock in 1974 and with vibraphonist Milt Jackson in 1976. In 1979, I was invited to do a concert with the late and legendry saxophonist Richie Cole and vocalist Ernestine Anderson.”

In 2014, Victoria and Rick decided to retire in Panama but found it wasn’t for them. “ We travelled all over to the likes of Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. It was then that we decided to travel to Europe. We were constantly meeting other people who kept raving about how great Portugal was so we decided to give it a try.”

“After all these international musical forays, I decided to call myself a ‘bassist without borders’. Now that we have settled here in Ferragudo, life has been great. I perform with Cool Manouche a group which plays Gipsy jazz and I also get to play in a variety of jazz groups. The legacy of my band leading days is that I still have lots of arrangements and with my new colleagues here we have been able to put them back to good use.”

Let’s hope that his wanderlust will be curbed for many years to come and that he continues to make great music here in the Algarve.



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