Saxophonist Steve Cole is a popular jazz performer whose crossover sound draws from the R&B, pop, and blues influences of his hometown Chicago. Cole initially gained attention in the late '90s playing alongside guitarist Brian Culbertson and issuing albums like 1998's Stay Awhile and 2003's NY LA. Whether on his own, or as a member of the all-star Sax Pack with Jeff Kashiwa and Kim Waters, Cole has remained a chart favorite, issuing albums like 2016's Turn It Up, 2019's neo-soul inflected Gratitude, and 2021's Smoke and Mirrors.
Born in 1970, Cole grew up in Chicago the son of a semi-pro clarinet and sax player. Classically trained from a young age, he started first on clarinet and then switched to tenor saxophone in high school. He further honed his musical skills at Northwestern University, studying classical saxophone while pursuing a degree in economics and eventually earning an M.B.A. It was also while at Northwestern that he switched his creative focus from classical to jazz, funk, blues, and R&B. He began gigging and quickly established himself as a go-to sideman on the Chicago club scene. Along with gigs alongside luminaries like Junior Wells and Bob Mamet, Cole came to wider recognition playing with Chicago-native keyboardist Brian Culbertson. Working with Culbertson, Cole recorded his debut album, 1998's Stay Awhile, which spawned three hit radio singles that helped Cole's win the Prism Award for Best New Artist at the 2000 Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards.
In 2002, Cole returned with the Culbertson-produced Between Us, which included the singles "Got It Going On" and "From the Start," as well as a cover of TLC's "Waterfalls." The album came in the wake of a busy period for the saxophonist, who remained in-demand as a sideman, working with Dave Koz, Marc Antoine, Peter White, Rick Braun, and Larry Carlton, among others. The following year, he issued NY LA, which again featured Culbertson and found the saxophonist expanding his sonic palette, working with fellow saxophonist David Mann, the vocal duo Sonic Soul, as well as bassist Will Lee, guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., percussionist Lenny Castro, and former Miles Davis keyboardist Darren Johnson. He followed with the lyrical Spin in 2005 and the laid-back True in 2006.
In 2008, Cole landed on top of the Billboard Smooth Jazz Songs chart with "Fallin' for You," a single off the eponymous debut album from his smooth jazz trio Sax Pack with Jeff Kashiwa and Kim Waters. A year later, Cole and the group returned with The Pack Is Back! He then returned to his solo work with the orchestral covers album Moonlight, featuring songs by James Taylor, Burt Bacharach, Sarah McLachlan, Paul McCartney, and others. The contemporary funk and smooth jazz-oriented Pulse followed two years later. In 2015, Cole reunited with the Sax Pack for their third full-length effort, the aptly titled The Power of 3.
In 2016, Cole released his eighth studio album, Turn It Up, featuring the single "Mirage." Gratitude arrived in 2019 and found the saxophonist drawing upon a renewed sense of purpose following a health scare in his family. Included on the album was the single "Neo Sol." On his 10th studio album, 2021's Smoke and Mirrors, the saxophonist collaborated with his longtime co-writer/producer Michael Mann. Also contributing were players like trumpeter Trevor Neumann, guitarist Bernd Schoenhart, bassist Mark Egan, and others.
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