It seems the name Oliver is destined to speak of significance. Oliver, broadway musical; Oliver Cromwell of British history; Oliver, portrayed by Ryan O�Neal in the movie Love Story; and finally, Oliver Twist, the unforgettable main character in the Charles Dickens novel of the same name.
So when a guitar player named Steve Oliver burst into my corner of the smooth jazz music scene all at once not too long ago, it may be that I listened just a little more closely than if his name had been a different one. But it wouldn�t have mattered in the end, because the music itself was enough to cause me to sit up and take notice. From the first phrase of his guitar on the first song I heard, I knew I was going to like Steve Oliver�s music.
Positive Energy is a fitting name for that first CD I heard of Steve Oliver�s � the music is clean, fresh, energetic, positive, simply put together in a way that makes you want it to go on and on in your CD player. And I�ve done just that: listened from the first track to the last, then back to the beginning, more than one time through until I finally realize, gee, I�ll wear out this CD at the rate I�m going! It was merely living up to its name, bestowing on me a seemingly endless supply of positive energy.
So when the double billing of Chris Botti and Steve Oliver was listed on the schedule of the Berks Jazz Fest in March, it took only a second to know I wanted to hear Oliver�s music up close. The solid guitar playing, the compositions, the fact that nearly every song on the CD was worth listening to every time I popped it in -- all of this was impressive enough as I thought about the upcoming show. But once in the audience, it was the person of Steve Oliver, along with his music, that convinced me he is, indeed, the latest addition to an illustrious group of Olivers.
Casual. Relaxed. Happy. No, more than happy -- ecstatic. These are the qualities of a performer who put you at ease right from the start. It was obvious that he genuinely loves music and people. And it was equally obvious that he was going to have a great time, and was determined to take us along. With plenty of plans up his sleeve, it wasn�t long before he mesmerized the audience with his skill. He was more than a guitar player, more than a musician; his unique style caused me to later think of it as The Oliver Twist. He took what would easily be, by itself, a superb guitarist�s performance and made it even more memorable by giving it a whole new �twist.�
Standing as far front and center on the stage as he could get, eager to begin playing, he played a number of the songs I was hoping he would play from Positive Energy and his first CD entitled First View, and one of the new songs from his new CD, entitled 3-D, later released in August. He explained that he is always eager to try out new music on his fans before he puts them on a CD. We were happy to give our stamp of approval to 'Chips and Salsa' from the new CD.
He worked his way through a number of songs from First View, among them �West End,� the title track �First View,� �I Know,� and �Sunrise Celebration.� It was during �Sunrise Celebration,� with all its great vocal and percussion effects, that I noticed he was adding these various sound effects to his guitar playing! Of course I had heard these effects on the CD, but didn�t realize he was the one responsible for so many of these little gems placed like pearls in the spaces between his guitar lines. The effects became more and more intricate until I wasn�t sure how all these sounds could possibly be coming from him, but they were! He was totally engulfed in the experience of bringing us not only the sound of his guitar, but percussion effects, vocals, you name it, he was like a �one man band.� I had to look to be sure there was a drummer or anyone else up there with him!
He�s a powerhouse of energy and special effects on stage! And as if that isn�t enough, beyond all of this talent with percussion and vocal effects, Oliver also has been blessed with a wonderful singing voice, so that hearing him sing �I Know� from beginnng to end was surely one of the highlights of the show for me. What a great song, and what a great tribute to the love he has found with his wife, as he shared with us in his typical unabashed style. We couldn�t help but sing along to help him celebrate, and to celebrate the love in our own lives. Highlighted from the Positive Energy CD were �High Noon,� title track �Positive Energy,� and �Right Direction.�
It seemed that Oliver could have played well into the night. He never seemed to tire of connecting with his audience with music that just filled each of us with more and more of the Oliver blend of positive energy! But the show eventually had to end, despite continued protests of an appreciative crowd.
I remember thinking after the show, surely he will be a bit tired now and we won�t expect him to maintain that same upbeat manner he had nonstop on stage. But guess what? The positive energy was still flowing, in fact, maybe even stronger as he got excited over meeting every one of his fans, asking about them, responding to their questions. I don�t know how he did it, even I was tired! But he is a tireless, appreciative musician and it's obvious no amount of interacting is too much trouble or effort for him to give.
Since the Berks Jazz Fest, I've had the opportunity to ask Steve Oliver a couple of questions. First, I wanted to know what had contributed to his genuine love for people. He explained, �I have always had a love for talking with people since I can remember. That's why I love doing concerts, so I can meet and talk to the fans.�
I knew he had worked with Tom Schuman of Spyro Gyra in recording his latest CD, and I wondered what was the highlight of that experience. �Working with Tom Schuman was a dream; not only is he such an amazing player, but he is such a wonderful person to work with. He's very focused and gives 120% in everything he does. We would put in 15 hour days and he would still have energy to keep going, I love that about Tom!!!"
How does Steve Oliver see himself evolving in the future given his huge success at this point in his career � what are the goals he has yet to accomplish? He answered, �I am such a music guru, I eat, drink, and sleep music and I always feel like I am just getting started. I love writing music and I am always looking for new and creative ways of putting sounds together, I just want to keep on writing, recording and touring, it is my passion!!!!!�
There are so many things to say about Steve Oliver. To sum it up, I'd say 'positive energy� is a good name for him, not just for the CD. His enthusiasm and the flow of his energy really do send out a steady, positive stream that is infectious to those around him.
In case you�re wondering, Oliver�s debut CD, First View, released in 1999, is definitely worth adding to your collection. And I, for one, would never want to be without the Positive Energy CD! The new CD entitled 3-D, released in late August, promises to grab its share of attention in my CD player. In fact, it�s time to open this gem I have in my hands and pop it in!
By now you should be ready to head out for some CDs, attend one of the following shows, or both:
October 5 Henderson Pavillion, Henderson, Nevada
October 9 Thornton Winery, Temecula, California
October 14 Gardel�s, Baltimore, Maryland
October 16 Rehoboth Beach Autumn Jazz Festival, Rehoboth, Delaware
To learn more about Steve Oliver and where to purchase his CDs, go to www.steveolivermusic.com. And be forewarned: you can expect positive energy to flow as soon as you click onto his home page!
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo credits: Michael Packard