Hitting the High Note with Steve Jankowski

Steve Jankowski is a touring and freelance trumpet player in the NYC area, currently on tour with Nile Rodgers and Chic. He is also one of only three trumpet players to tour with the legendary horn band, Chicago. Steve was a member of Blood, Sweat and Tears for 8 years and was the Musical Director for his last 6 years there. Other tours include Don Henley, the Funk Brothers (featuring Steve Winwood and Billy Preston), Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave), K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and the late Donna Summer. Steve’s recording credits include Amy Grant’s “House of Love” (Double Platinum), Darryl Hall (Platinum), Jeff Lorber (2 Grammy nominated CDs with the BS&T horn section), Luther Vandross, Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and many more.

Steve Jankowski

I was excited to speak to Steve about his musical career and how he balances his home life, career, and travel. 

Steve kicked off the interview by explaining how he decided to pursue a career in music.

Steve spoke about his Dad who gave him a love of music at an early age. There was always big band music playing around the house. He loved jazz and blues and took him to many concerts when he was young. Steve added: 

“Once when I was 7 years old, he took me to the steel pier in Atlantic City. My family was watching the diving horse when I heard music coming from a different direction. I walked over and as soon as I was standing in front of the horn section, I heard the opening lick to the song Vehicle. It turned out the Ides of March we’re playing that day. I got goose bumps standing in front of the powerful horn section and knew that’s what I wanted to do. (Interesting that years later I got to play with Jim Peterik who wrote that song and I shared that story with him over a few beers).” 

My other inspiration was my high school band and trumpet teacher Les Hollander. Les is still teaching at Wall High. Somehow in my first week of school at Wall High he knew I played a little trumpet and found me in the hallway and asked if I would join the band. I wanted to play basketball, but he said why not do both! Once in the band he saw my competitive side and encouraged me to audition for things like NJ all State band, where I met a few guys, I still play with to this day. 

Tell us about your musical style.

“Les taught me to be an all-around good player. My teachers at University of Miami and later at Manhattan School of Music also taught me the value of learning all styles.” 

Can you share some of your more memorable or defining moments in your musical journey so far? 

“So many! A few that come to mind are the Ides of March story above. Also, receiving a phone call from Lee Loughnane (Trumpet player with Chicago) to sub for him was a defining moment. (I’ve subbed with Chicago over the years on 5 different tours). I think I am still one of only three or four trumpet players to ever play with the band.”

“Being asked to join Blood Sweat and Tears, and later being asked to become their musical director was an honor as well. While there I got to play with many greats like Arturo Sandoval, Jeff Lorber (whom we also recorded with on a few Grammy nominated recordings), and others. Now I tour with the legendary Nile Rodgers who has hit songs spanning 6 decades. Nile wrote and/or produced hits including Le Freak (Awwww Freak Out) and Good Times for his band Chic, Let’s Dance (David Bowie), I’m Coming Out (Diana Ross), We are Family (Sister Sledge), Like a Virgin (Madonna), Get Lucky (Daft Punk) and more recently Cuff It (Beyoncé). It’s an honor being a member of his band Chic and touring the world.“

What challenges have you faced as a professional musician, and how did you overcome them?

“I fell at a very young age and chipped a tooth that cut my lip and caused scar tissue. It took a while to figure out how to deal with that scar tissue early on in my career and not let it cause inflammation. When it’s aggravated it causes swelling in my upper lip which impedes the vibration needed to play trumpet. I have a good handle on that now. Now I guess the challenge of the road is how to stay healthy and get enough sleep!”

Are there any artists or musicians who have influenced your work? 

“Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nile Rodgers, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Maurice Andre, and many more.“

How do you approach the process of creating and composing music?

“These days I am so busy that I actually have to clear a day out of my schedule to be in the studio and be centered and quiet and force myself to create. Lately I am only writing when an artist I am producing asks me to come up with something in a certain style for their project. The last song I wrote, surprisingly made it on the Gospel Charts!”

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re excited about? 

“I’m currently on tour with Nile Rodgers and Chic in Europe playing festivals all summer. Very excited about that.  I completed producing a studio project for Andy Rothstein last year that was on the charts for the better part of last year. Andy wants to start another recording soon. I’m very excited about that. “

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are just starting their journey?

“If you love what you do and work hard at honing your craft, you will get paid to “play” for a living. Touring takes a lot out of you physically, so your 80% has to be better than most other people’s 100%! I remember practicing for four hours a day in high school and 6-8 hours a day in college. It takes a lot of work, but it is worth it!”

How do you balance your personal life with the demands of a music career?

“I have a very understanding wife who is also in “the business”. My wife, Vocalist Deb Lyons, toured with the Mamas and Papas and was also on Broadway in Smokey Joe’s cafe. She knows the hard work and dedication it takes to work at this level and supports me in all I do.”