A grand piano. Shelves of CDs, hockey art, and children’s drawings. And the deep “thung” of a big double bass.
Welcome to the office of Steve Haines, professor of music in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at UNC Greensboro. He’s just finished mentoring a bass player and is about to start a practice session for himself.
The music professor leans the big bass carefully against the wall and pulls out his new album – “Steve Haines and the Third Floor Orchestra” – which was released in the spring.
It’s a departure from his earlier works. It’s not quite jazz, not quite folk, not quite singer-songwriter, he notes. He had certain songs in mind – and wanted to complement Brooklyn-based artist Becca Stevens’ voice and UNCG faculty Chad Eby’s saxophone with a full symphony orchestra.
The album sold 5,000 copies in its first month with glowing reviews. Japan’s most popular jazz magazine called it “a masterpiece.”
Selections range from Neil Young to Chopin to folk. Imagine the centuries-old “Fair and Tender Ladies” turned upside down, with an ethereal vocal, a lush, sometimes-syncopated string section, and saxophone break. Haines even wrote lyrics for two songs.
Sales plus funding from the Canada Council of the Arts, ArtsGreensboro, and UNCG supported the effort.
Haines has played across the globe, from China to the Czech Republic. He’s conducted at Lincoln Center and performed at Lenox Lounge. He has also brought UNCG’s Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program to a high spot. Up to 90 students audition each year, and the chosen six to eight receive intensive mentoring.
He knows how inspiring moments can take students to another level. A jazz track on a friend’s mixtape is what first hooked him, in high school: Oscar Peterson’s “The Honeydripper.”
“I just played along. I could not stop dancing,” Haines recalls. A year later, he sat in with the Duke Ellington rhythm section, another inspiration of his.
Now, he’s a composer and a teacher. “My main identity is as a performer.”
In 2012, that nearly ended.
Haines had a tumor in his right shoulder. After the mass was removed, he could barely move his arm. He thought he’d have to change careers, but a specialist believed he could transplant a key nerve in Haines’ arm. Several months after that surgery, he started playing again. A thousand hours of practice brought him back.
The bass felt beautiful. “I fell in love with it again.”
Artistically, he was transformed. “I learned less is more. The sound of one long note is more beautiful than I had known before.”
His next two projects are a Tom Waits big band-type album and a swinging holiday album with UNCG jazz pianist Ariel Pocock.
“A musician’s life is improvisation,” he explains. “There are always new ways to approach those four strings.”
This post originally appeared in UNCG Research Magazine. To read other stories about research, scholarship, and creative activity, visit researchmagazine.uncg.edu.
Story by Mike Harris, University Communications
Photography by Jiyoung Park, University Communications