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Stephen Philip Harvey Runs On Big Nerd Energy

Stephen Philip Harvey is a saxophonist, educator, composer, arranger, clinician, label executive, husband and son. Though he just turned 32 last Friday, you have to wonder where he gets the energy.

“I think it’s unfortunately a symptom of high functioning anxiety,” he said with a laugh that belied the sentiment. “Realistically, and emotionally,” he added, “I just really, really love music.”

That much is apparent to audiences and players in northeast Ohio who have been part of Harvey’s many visits here, the next of which will come in late summer.

“In the past three years, music has let me establish different relationships, meet new people, travel to different places, and I just want more opportunities like that,” he said on a post-birthday video call Saturday. “And the only way that I see them happening where I’m geographically located and where I’m at in my career is to create them myself.”

Auteur of the Hidden Cinema

Harvey is a native of the Pittsburgh area and a graduate of Youngstown State University, but he lives and teaches on Maryland’s historic Eastern Shore. Unsurprisingly, he’s already formed two bands there with musicians from that area, Sphinx, an electric quintet, and the chordless trio SPH+2.

Stephen Philip Harvey

Not content to merely play, Harvey recorded both bands and issued the music on Hidden Cinema Records, a label he founded. “It’s a threefold thing: wanting everything to fall under my identity and have creative control of everything, even release dates,” he said, explaining his motivation behind the label. ”I wanted to be able to create as much as possible and not be stifled by one format or one release per year. And I don’t know, I just, really like music.”

No kidding. And the flood of music from Hidden Cinema in the last nine months is proof. In addition to a Sphinx release, two by the trio and Elemental by his Octet, Harvey just released the first of two recordings drawn from a gig last June at Cincinnati’s Radio Artifact. The first is a digital-only live recording of the material from Elemental and issued May 3. The second, Live at Radio Artifact, will be released on physical media in August but is available now as a download from Bandcamp.

One Night, One Band, Two Releases

“I thought it was gonna be one record,” Harvey said, adding that he had never recorded live for release. “This was [the band’s] fourth night together, which is cool, but at the same time, you can’t guarantee that everything’s gonna go off without a hitch in just four nights. It was not perfect, but the energy of it was really great.”


It could hardly have been otherwise given the A-list band that Harvey assembled for that Midwest tour. Young Thomas Schinabeck from Shaker Heights was recommended by Tim Green, his teacher at the Peabody Institute when Green was unable to make the tour. He joined Cleveland native Ben Tweedt, the pianist now based in Cincinnati, guitarist Dan Bruce and drummer Dustin May in the NEO crew, Pittsburgh stalwarts Reggie Watkins on trombone and bassist Tony DePaolis, now a New Yorker, and Chicagoan Marques Carroll on trumpet completed the band.

“The music was really happening and everyone in the band was taking risks,” Bruce said of the session. “Stephen’s music is great. The first challenge is getting it really tight, then the next challenge is getting it to loosen up. This band made both happen.”

It’s a sound that has deep roots in northeast Ohio, one that Harvey describes as angular. “We are writing in a linear concept to create harmonies so that it’s not this stagnant modal thing,” he said. “I hear that a lot in Sam’s [Blakeslee] writing. I hear that a lot in Bobby’s [Selvaggio] writing and improvising and in both of their improvising. and I hear it a lot in [Chris] Coles’ improvising and writing.”

Big Nerd Energy

You can hear it in Harvey’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s classic “Witch Hunt,” a triumph that Harvey began with some trepidation. After all, you don’t take on the music of a giant like Shorter without a lump in your throat.

“Pretty much, right? I don’t arrange often; I usually compose, but I’m so proud of that arrangement,” Harvey said. “One thing that I love about Wayne is his personality, his interests. I got to read his biography a couple of years before he passed away. Before that, I didn’t have an appreciation for how big of a nerd he was. When they were talking about his early childhood and how he used to write comic books, I was like, I used to write comic books!”

Stephen Philip Harvey

So Wayne was a big nerd and had big nerd energy. And I cannot explain to people how much I felt seen in reading about his life and how he approached music and how he cared about all these things related to music,” Harvey said.

When I was writing ‘Witch Hunt,’ I kind of felt like Brahms thinking about Beethoven while he’s writing his first symphony. But eventually in that process, I was like, it’s gonna be an arrangement. People have done arrangements away before. I think I’ll be okay.”

Laboring in the long shadow of Beethoven, Brahms didn’t complete that symphony until he was 43 years old. That deliberateness is not Stephen Philip Harvey’s style. “I feel like it would be a lot more motivating if these [tours] were back-to-back-to-back-to-back,” he said.

“I feel like I have to wait a really long time for each string of gigs, and then other people are like, ‘Wow, you’re working a lot! ” I’m like, “Oh, am I? ” I don’t feel like it.”

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,