“I think the greatest thing about being an improviser is that you get to be a professional B.S. artist,” saxophonist Steve Kortyka said during a recent phone call. Also a composer and educator, Kortyka is renowned for his improvisatory skills, having graced the stages of many famous New York jazz clubs and making several major TV appearances in his career.
Kortyka’s artistry will be on display during his Latin Explosion Livestream on Saturday, April 10th at 8 PM, hosted by the Bop Stop and featuring Jackie Warren on piano and Sammy DeLeon on drums. The event will be free, but donations are encouraged.
Although the set list has yet to be finalized, Kortyka sounded confident and excited about performing with the others. “Outside of the melodies, most of the music you hear will be improvised and we will all be playing off each other, which is why I’m not worried about not rehearsing before.” This is also not the first time the combo has performed together — their latest event was this past August.
Saturday’s performance will feature jazz standards modified in a process that Warren refers to as ‘salsafying’. When asked about the inspiration for the Latin theme of the concert, Kortyka said it arose from “playing off the strengths of the other musicians in the band.” Kortyka most frequently performs swing music, but enjoys the percussive and rhythmic elements of jazz. Therefore he jumped on the opportunity to play some songs with a rhythmically focused feel, a critical element of many Latin tunes.
In regards to being a performer during a pandemic, Kortyka said he has been relatively active and the time has allowed him to grow as a musician. “I’ve converted from being a sideman in a jazz band to the educational side of music, teaching and doing masterclasses. Also, I have been doing my own live streams from home, which is cool because I can pick music I really like and take charge.” For his one-man band shows, the saxophonist has experimented with playing along to backing tracks, loops, and layers. To listen to a sample of what Kortyka has been doing over the past year, listeners can check out his solo performance at the Bop Stop on Wednesday, April 7th at 7 PM.
Although it might seem that Kortyka was born a professional jazz musician, he actually began learning improvisation and composition in college. “I really loved improvisation, but I wasn’t very good at it. Making the decision to do this as a living was risky,” he said, referring to the familiar experience of having to decide a career path. “Once I found improvisation, it became all-consuming for me because it was so fun.”
Kortyka had some teachable advice to offer when asked about his approach to preparing a piece. For anyone learning to improvise, he suggests choosing a theme to play over chord changes to create a connection between the performer and the music. About getting up and performing a solo, Kortyka said “it happens in the moment and is usually centered around what somebody played before me. I try not to plan solos too far ahead because it never goes the way you plan.”
On Saturday, Kortyka will feature different performers throughout the evening. He likes to alternate soloists between songs to keep the performance interesting and the audience engaged. “That way, you get the opportunity to stretch out and try some things you wouldn’t normally try.”
The naturally unpredictable nature of jazz can lead to some unexpectedly great performances. Kortyka recalls a rehearsal for Tony Bennett’s 90th Birthday celebration. “There’s a solo in The Lady is a Tramp which is actually written in the first tenor part. Brian, leader of the Brian Newman Quintet, said to me ‘Take the solo, man.’ As I was playing, the guys looked at each other like ‘Why is he soloing?’ But it turned out to be one of the coolest things I felt like I ever did — super spontaneous, and now it’s on the record.”
Tune in to the Bop Stop’s live stream on Saturday evening for a Latin-infused performance that will be full of enjoyable surprises.