Chasing Music: Shilts and Guests at Houndstooth

You know, the more I look at it, the more I realize that the little pub with a downstairs room on 8th Avenue is fast on its way to becoming NY’s smooth jazz hotspot, and Saturday night only proves me correct.

I get downstairs, and immediately get greeted by JB Brooks, the official photographer of the Spirit Season, Eulis Cathey, the voice of WBGO’s Sunday Night Music Mix, and the star himself: Shilts. The ex-Down to the Bone, ex-Brit, ex-New Yorker, and star of the show. And of course, Kenny Harris, new bassist on the block. Across the bar room, I spot Frank “Third” Richardson, drummer powerhouse whom I’ve crossed paths with as early as Jammin’ in Jamaica (without so knowing at the time), and off to the side…wait, Steve Cole?

*record scratch*

Oh yes, the “and guests” part. Way to go, Kat, this is what lack of sleep gets ya.

As a side note, when I caught up with Kenny Harris at Daniel Street, and successfully coerced him to tell me who was the special guest on guitar, he told me nothing of the special guest on the sax. Ah, Kenny, you little scamp, you got me there.

Kenny Harris, actually with Matt Marshak (Special Guest #1), opened the show, and surprised me to no end when he broke into Bobby Caldwell’s classic What You Won’t Do For Love. I love and adore that song, and Kenny’s voice is fantastic for it. Light, buttery, very good on the ears, and perfectly suited to R&B, Kenny’s voice was a great spin on a classic.

Now, I know Shilts. I know what to expect from Shilts, and you know what to expect when Shilts announces, with all his Britishness in full force, that he’s releasing something new: funk. Shilts tears into his music with unabashed enthusiasm and has an absolute blast with his audience. He doesn’t hesitate to ask for a pint onstage, and showcases a little something new every time he plays. While on the last show, he steered towards the tried and true, this show was all about Going Underground. New tracks were all over the place, from Lambeth Strut to Seeing Things Clearly, and the crowd was loving it.

And then, special guest #2: Steve Cole.

Now, here’s the thing. I’ve seen Steve Cole before, but don’t see him anywhere near frequently. First time was when I met him aboard Haven Entertainment’s All Star Cruise 2009, and hadn’t seen him until Smooth Jazz for Scholars of this year, and then later at Newport Beach with the Sax Pack. And his style on the tenor sax is, for the lack of words, city slick: strong, straightforward, a little gritty. Not the Euge Groove-type growl, nor Richard Elliot’s ex-ToP, but something very urban and very “yes, that’s me, so what?” But make no mistake – he’s only lived in NYC for a handful of years; he is a Chicago soul through and through, and you certainly hear it when he puts the sax to his lips.

Having heard Moonlight, a more classic side to Cole compared to his other releases (having little to do with the orchestral backing; the entire arrangement of the album is a lot more straightlaced), I wasn’t sure what to expect from him with Shilts being the headliner. Make no mistake: if there’s funk, Steve Cole will show you funk, and you know that with Shilts, that’s the first thing on the menu. But what those two turned out the other night firmly won me over, and that was their rendition of a Stanley Turrentine classic, Sugar.

Two tenor saxes. I’m picky with my horns as it is, and I always prefer the depth and versatility of the tenor to any other saxophone. Hell, even the bari sax I’m picky with, and I’ve not heard a good bari in ages. But tenors – now, for those, I have a soft spot. I am, very much so, an old-school sax fan. And I will say this: when Steve and Shilts started up with the opening back-and-forth parries on their horns for Sugar, I could easily tune into the difference in the two. Compared to Shilts’s, you’ll easily notice that Steve’s tenor is just a little smoother, just the slightest bit deeper in tone, and putting those two together on something by Turrentine is a game of contrasts. Shilts got bold on his solo, and Steve’s straightforward counter really brought out the difference between the two horns. If I had to pick whose sax was better suited for Turrentine, hands down – Steve Cole takes the win. The little bit of extra depth on his sax goes a long way in playing the classics.

In all, a fantastic evening was had, and an excellent reunion with people whom I don’t see often, as well as those whom I have the delight of seeing frequently.



3 thoughts on “Chasing Music: Shilts and Guests at Houndstooth

    1. I’m new to your blog postings. I enjoyed reading about Shilts and Steve Cole, two of my favorite sax players. I just saw Steve this past Friday night with Sax Pack in Austin, TX at a little 300 seat venue known as One World Theatre. It is about the only place in Austin (very few in Texas I might add) where you can see the best smooth jazz artists. Steve was great (along with his buddies, Jeff and Kim, of course). You mentioned the CD “Moonlight” which I love. Steve played the heck out of a cut off that CD, “Angel.” It was just awesome. I did like how the concert featured the solo work of these guys. I mean don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy Sax Pack, but all three of these guys are incredible solo artists (not to mention Jeff with The Rippingtons which I’m seeing in September — same theatre). Thanks and I look forward to reading more of your blogs.


      1. Welcome to the blog, Max!

        My favorite by Steve Cole off that CD is “Undun”. I’m a sucker for classic sax; that entire CD is a brilliant piece of work.

        I caught all three of them at Newport Beach, and absolutely loved it. Jeff and Kim shine in their solos, and I look forward to seeingJeff at the Spirit Cruises, when he’s with the Ripps.

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