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Steve Hunter's Biography

Pianist, arranger and conductor STEVE HUNTER is based in Toronto, Canada.

Born in Pasadena California in 1956, I started playing piano at age 6 and by 1964 was studying privately with Robert E. Turner, one of America’s finest pianists and teachers, who in turn was taught by Josef and Rosina Lhevinne at Juilliard. Classical lessons in Mr. Turner’s Santa Monica home gave me great technique, and providence gave me a great ear that had me figuring out the “Peanuts” jazz Christmas song when it first aired in 1965 (I was 9) and various Beatles songs like “Lady Madonna” and Martha My Dear” as they were released. And of course the Beatles made me pick up a guitar, as did thousands of other young guys, and I figured out chords and licks on my own and with the help of my piano teacher’s son, Jim Turner. After a piano lesson with Mr. Turner, I would head to Jim’s room where Jim played me “Crossroads” by Robert Johnson and Clapton’s version with Cream. From that point on I was hooked on the blues and rock. My oldest brother was solidly into the early folk scene of Dylan and Joan Baez , and the British invasion and explosion of 60’s rock followed, so the classical world where I read the music and the rock/roots world where I played by ear has always existed side by side with me. 

After quitting piano at age 16 and a reluctant move with my family to Ontario Canada, in 1975 I found myself without a job, no prospects and living with relatives. An Aunt had heard about a jazz music course at Humber College in Toronto, so with no jazz background but with great ears, sight-reading and piano technique still intact, I enrolled and quickly learned the basics of how to make a living in the real music world. Thankfully back then (’77) there was still lots of jobs for talented musicians, so after college, I started playing with show bands and lounge acts, working 6 nights a week wherever the jobs took me. Going from Beethoven piano sonatas to the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever” – a fate most young keyboardists from the 70’s know well – the disco era and thriving R&B/pop scene in Toronto kept me playing and hauling a Fender Rhodes, Clavinet, amps and various synthesizers around Southern Ontario and Toronto.

In the 80’s word of mouth landed me great gigs in the studio playing for jingles where shortly I started writing and producing as well. There’s nothing like constant studio work to hone a musician’s skills, and I learned arranging on the fly; if it’s Monday and you have a session the upcoming Thursday with a 4 piece sax section, you learn to write and arrange very fast. No computer programs back then; just your ears and hand written manuscript paper. In 1985 I was hired to play the synth book on CATS which turned into a 4 year job and a 30 year career in musical theatre. Playing the piano book on TOMMY in 1995, I was also required to conduct, and so again hard work and practice led to the podium, where conducting came naturally to me.

I should mention some important people in my life who have mentored me. First of course is my piano teacher, Robert E. Turner, and his son Jim, who is now a producer and accomplished stride pianist working and living in LA. Clive Desmond, my jingle partner in the 80’s, encouraged me to write and arrange, and pushed to record jingles in New York, giving me a chance to work with great musicians who worked the studio scene there. Rick Fox hired me to conduct as well as play in musical theater shows, and coached me on conducting and arranging for vocals. Don Francks hired me to play in his jazz band, and his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz gave me lessons I could have never learned at school. I’ve now been with Don for over 30 years as his musical director and co-conspirator in arranging. Colm Wilkinson gave me a chance to play concert halls and conduct orchestras that I otherwise would never have done. Doing an orchestral arrangement of “Whiter Shade Of Pale” and performing that in Dublin with him was a dream come true, and an offering to the memory of my brother Paul, who turned me on to the brilliance of the band Procol Harum. Playing in the pits of musical theater shows with Brian Barlow (drums) and Scott Alexander (bass) showed me by example how to play with great time. Most pianists who start off classically are notorious for rushing the beat when put into a rhythm section, and I was no different. Still working on that aspect, guys!

And so into my fourth decade of music in Toronto, I have built up a reputation as the “go to” guy; someone who can play any style, sight read and make it happen for whatever the gig happens to be. Along the way I have released 3 solo CD’s, toured through most of the U.S. and Canada and have played for a Canadian Prime Minister in Toronto, and a sitting U.S. president at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. I’m waiting to see where the next 20 years will take me in an ever changing world of music…