One of the most truly gifted, unique piano players in Michigan is gone.
I first heard Steve Richko in the late spring, when he joined Tad Weed and Cliff Monear in a three-piano jazz extravaganza at the Steinway Gallery in Commerce Township. Steve had an incredible ear and truly spoke to your soul from the keyboard. After his solo set in the concert, I remember telling Chuck that “he took me someplace special, and I didn’t want to come back.” Few performances move me that much.
We next heard Steve play in the piano room at the Michigan Jazz Festival at Schoolcraft College. Only a small group was in the room, but his ability to weave together standards on the fly and pull people into his music soon had the room full of new fans. Later, we listened as he joined Paul Keller, his friend and collaborator, out on the lawn.
We heard Steve again just a few weeks ago, when the three piano players re-united at Steinway for a second edition of the three-piano evening. This time, Steve was punching out some great boogie-woogie bass lines, improvising by ear as Cliff and Tad played on adjacent grand pianos. He was a versatile performer, able to channel the styles of Oscar Peterson — an early inspiration — as well as Nat King Cole and other notable jazz keyboard artists.
Steve was in his early thirties and had a tremendous future in front of him. Hearing of his death truly stunned me, as it has musicians throughout the area. A tribute concert, benefiting his family, is planned.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to hear Steve play, there are some YouTube videos, but the purest sense of him might be on some of the recording samples available on the website of his record label, PKO Records.
Here’s a couple of samples:
The piano is front and center in Noreen’s Nocturne from “To Oscar, With Love.”
A really nice keyboard solo is in the middle of They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love from “Swingin’ the Praise.”
Just You, Just Me from “We Like to Riff: A Toast to the Nat King Cole Trio”, the album that will officially be released at the tribute concert this weekend.