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Denny Zeitlin Remembers Jeremy Steig

9.23.42 – 4.13.16

Jeremy Steig (JazzTimes Archives)
Jeremy Steig (JazzTimes Archives)

It was 1963. I was 25, in my third year at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and had recently accepted producer John Hammond’s offer to sign as a Columbia artist. Prior to starting a series of albums as a leader, John thought it would be valuable experience to appear as the featured pianist on the debut album of a discovery of his—“a phenomenally talented 21-year-old flutist” named Jeremy Steig.

The weekend recording, with Ben Riley on drums and Ben Tucker on bass, was essentially a blowing date with no group rehearsal. Jeremy and I met briefly before the sessions to discuss his approach and some tunes he wanted to play. He wanted to speak raw emotion through his flute—particularly to give his anger a voice through, as he put it, “musical temper tantrums.” I let him know I was willing to take the music wherever he wanted.

When the quartet began recording, it was immediately clear that Jeremy was a major talent, an explosive force of nature with his own unique approach. I felt that the rapport among the four of us was terrific, and the intense flute-piano interaction was particularly exciting and free. Away from his flute during the recording session, I remember a very intense young man, totally driven, and simultaneously self-critical yet convinced he had an urgently important musical contribution to share with the world.

The album, Flute Fever, received considerable critical acclaim, and though Jeremy and I moved on to separate musical careers, I will always remember the thrill of making music with him at Columbia’s famed 30th Street Studio, where I could feel the echoes of decades of great jazz and
classical sessions.

Originally Published