Tributes to Saxophonist Steve Main (1972-2021)

There is a deep sense of loss from colleagues, contemporaries and friends of saxophonist STEVE MAIN, who passed away suddenly earlier today 10 February, at the age of just 48. This tragic news is still sinking in, and more tributes will be added to this post. Here are memories of Steve, in particular from bandleaders who have learned the sad news today. Their sense of loss and feelings of shock – as well us how much they appreciated the pleasure and the privilege of having worked with him – are very clear. With thanks to them, and above all in fond memory of a very special, popular and highly respected musician. In sadness.

Steve Main playing in Bansangu. Photo courtesy of Paul Booth

Matt Wates: Steve was a member of my band for at least 12 years, from around 2008. I’d already known him for years prior to that, however. I was highly impressed with his playing from the very first time I heard him, which I think is likely to have been in a big band led by Winston Rollins. Steve’s playing was always defiantly ‘modern’, showing the influence of the sophisticated harmonic language that descends from Coltrane and others. It also carried a powerful emotional impact, however. Furthermore, Steve never seemed to have to rely on a learnt vocabulary or set of ‘licks’. He was also one of the few sax players around who sounded equally good on alto and tenor. Steve was a very fine musician, and his loss will leave a gap in my band that it will be very difficult to fill. But he was also a very fine human being, kind, thoughtful and sympathetic, as well as a solid, reliable friend. I think it as the latter that I will most him most.

Steve Main (centre) in the Pete Cater Big Band, with Pete (L) and Bob Martin (R). Photo credit: Fred Little

Pete Cater: Ability. Integrity. Professionalism. As a big band leader since the early 1980s these qualities are my three maxims where recruiting is concerned. Steve Main was, quite simply, the embodiment of all these qualities. At first he arrived in the late 1990s, as one of those deps you are always delighted to see. Circumstances precipitated a major recast of my personnel in 2006, and from then on he was a first call, only ever missing one gig throughout the ensuing years. Steve was always a jazz musician first and foremost; that said, his section playing and doubling skills were first rate, and he could, and sometimes did, diversify into more mainstream/commercial pastures of the freelance music profession, but jazz was at the heart of his musical identity; a musical heart worn very much on his sleeve. He played what he meant, and he meant what he played. That said, it was with a true sense of professional musician pragmatism that he maintained a place in the Glenn Miller UK Orchestra for several years: truly endeavour beyond the call of duty. Steve’s greatness was his and his alone. I’m not going to make any lazy comparisons with any global tenor titans of the past or present, because his playing stood up in its own right, on its own merits, and had no need of superfluous measurement against anyone else. He was very much his own man, and his own musician, who wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in both as a player and a human being. In a world where a great many professional yes men slither in the undergrowth Steve’s candour was as unstinting as it was refreshing. As a soloist I most admired his extraordinary harmonic sense, which coupled with his great technical command gave his improvisation a freshness, an identity, and a very real sense of the road less travelled. Such was his extraordinary harmonic dexterity that I clearly remember overhearing a naïvely insouciant aside from a punter at one of our Cadogan Hall concerts that Steve was playing “all the wrong notes”. A comment that would not have been out of place in an encounter between Andre Previn and Eric Morecambe. Professional nice guys have no place in my bands. There is no finer example of this than Bob Martin, and after a few minor but necessary front bench reshuffles, Steve and Bob ended up next to one another on first tenor and second alto respectively. Bob’s admiration for Steve was genuine; devoid of platitudes and insincerity. A big part of assembling a band is to put people together who bring out the best in each other. Although slight of stature Steve was genuinely a big man. One of my favourite memories is of him going toe to toe with the notoriously curmudgeonly former landlord of a famous South West London jazz venue, after Steve had the temerity to query having been undercharged for a soft drink during a break in a big band rehearsal. Thoughts are with his grieving family at this terrible time, as the rest of us come to terms with the awful reality that we will never have the privilege of hearing him play the tenor saxophone again. Farewell. Paul Booth: I am absolutely shocked and devastated to hear that my friend and colleague Steve Main passed away this morning at such a young age. The music community has lost one of the finest saxophonists around, a true individual voice, an all round pro and most importantly a nice guy. I can’t quite believe I’ll never get to see and hear you again mate….rest in peace and thank you for your friendship and talent. My thoughts and condolences go out to Steve’s family. Steve  Main. Born Tenby 17 July 1972. Died Tenby 10 February 2021

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4 replies »

  1. Steve was a great guy, very generous guy.
    He was a fantastic musician with a very distinctive sound on saxophone, all his own – the most coveted musical attribute of all.
    I met Steve in 1995 and we played in several bands over the years. We shared a flat together too.
    I spoke to him last week and he seemed his usual chipper self.
    He will be greatly missed by many people.

  2. Very shocked and sad to hear the news about Steve. I met him when we were at the Academy together back in the early 90s and went on to play in a regular band with him for a few years after college.
    Steve always sounded great and was a fully formed musician. His approach was original and he always seemed to me to have an incredibly clear vision of how he wanted to sound.
    I remember with fondness the many times I spent at the flat in Chiswick rehearsing, playing for fun or just hanging out. Steve was always great company.
    More recently Steve had been coming in to the BBC Big Band and giving us the benefit of his fantastic saxophone playing and deep musicality, which was always a pleasure.
    My condolences and thoughts are with Steve’s family, I will miss him very much and the Jazz scene will not be same without him.

  3. I first saw and heard Steve at a Pete Cater concert I can still hear that solo now , the rest of the section I knew and were all special players so when Steve got up I nearly fell from my seat. ” a great night”. I later met him in my street as he was visiting a friend who was neighbour of mine so subsequently met often around Hammersmith which was always a great pleasure . I’m a member Willies band and now and again he would come in and dep at the Polish Centre and it was always a knock out . I feel so sad that he’s gone and its seems hard to come to terms with the reality of it , as if something of great value has been stolen from me (us). My condolences go out. To his family. Thanks Steve.

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