10 Questions with Stephen Trohoske
-written by Nat Richmond
Jazz has always been a genre that made me feel the feelings I wasn't ready to sit with. From the whine of the guitar riff, to the subtle pull of the sax as it sits on a note for just a half a second longer than anticipated..the genre takes you on a journey that unveils a storyline that no one knows the resolution too until you get there. It's a mysterious unfolding of cathartic, emotional storyboarding that reminds you of a pain that you thought you healed many moons ago. It's a sounding of thoughts that were previously unable to be matched with words..of any human vocal dialect. The way an artist masterfully steers the limits of his/her instrument, delivering a requiem that we all can relate to, even without a history that parallels, speaks to the depth that Jazz can go. Stephen Trohoske is an artist's artist. As a bassist, he has composed, written, performed, and delivered some of the most passionate displays of musicology in the Erie area for decades. I wanted the opportunity to pick his brain, uncovering the inspirations that has led him to being one of Erie's most avid, vocal, and fearless advocates for the preservation of authentic artistry in Erie. One of his most recent offerings, City Gallery, has provided a space for collaboration, investigation, and actualization for Erie artists across many disciplines. Exposing the Erie area to quality, LIVE music cannot be understated. But, who's the man behind the vision? Let's find out...
What do you feel you bring to the table in Erie? I feel like you don't get the flowers that you deserve.
Well, I hope what we bring to Erie... and I say we because my wife, Lena, is a crucial part of this. I hope that we bring opportunity more than anything. I hope that we bring opportunity for artists, for young artists to come and be showcased as we've done here, for artists who are doing installments and larger visions to have a space of this size and magnitude to show their work at. For older artists and teachers, like the show that we have in right now. I think what we provide is an opportunity for artists. I hope what we provide is an opportunity for the community as well. The community to come through and see these different artists, meet these different artists. We like to focus in a little bit more on an artist for say 4 to 6 weeks, really allow that artist's work to be shown. We like to create the shows with the artists, the layout, the concept. I think that we bring a lot of diverse music. And, World music and Jazz music and diverse music. It's something that we've worked hard at. It's been a longstanding part of the Erie community all the way back to 1972 with the Erie Art Museum. And they did it for 50 years. I would just like to think that I'm just like one of those veins that has come off of that.
I would like to know your beginning. Where does your story begin in terms of Art, in terms of creation, and self-expression?
I was probably about 12 years old or so, and I was always kind of a kid that was looking to try to do stuff right. They had a place called the Clay Space up here, and it was an actual music place. I saw a great trumpet player named Freddie Hubbard Play. It was life changing, you know? When I was 18, again, I started fiddling around with music and playing in bands. I saw another 18 year old bass player out of Philadelphia named Christian McBride Play OC here in Erie at for piano concert for Phineas Newborn at McDowell High School. And, he was just killing it. At the time he had come out of a band with a young other drummer by the name of Questlove. I was so impressed that, you know, we were the same age. I used to stand outside of restaurants and venues here watching Jazz. Some of my first gigs were with Mary Alice Brown. Then, I got into the Art world through Music. Then, I met a beautiful Ukrainian woman who was an artist. And, you know, our worlds collided and we created a space called Art Studio. That studio just kind of blossomed into a place for people to hatch ideas and have ideas. It kind of grew out of this control of our own vision, you know, because it took on a life of its own. We decided with City Gallery, we wanted to do it in a place where we felt the demographic could be a lot more diverse. We wanted to make the neighborhood look as good as everybody else is making it look. We want to give everybody a shot to be able to come through and feel part of it, because we've always been a place that was built off of community, really. It's been communal support from the beginning. And even some of the people that you know have helped grow with us have come in and been part of like helping me paint or write.
What have you seen in terms of progression in the Erie Arts community overall?
Well, I've seen a lot more opportunity for artists, maybe some that aren't so much in the political arena of Art or people that already have enough clout to kind of move through the the Art scene, which I adore and appreciate. But, we definitely need just like waves. We need the next wave to come along because nothing lasts forever. So I've seen that. I've seen a lot more diversity as far as culture goes. I've seen a lot more people of color get opportunities in the art scene, which has been great to see because that's something that I've strived for in the music community a lot. And, well, it's important because we're attached to that culture and to ignore the group of people or the background of the people that have brought us that culture seems to be one of the big problems. It's kind of like... include everybody in and then allow yourself to learn from their strengths and allow yourself to offer your strengths. I play with people that are better than me normally.
What would you say makes a good body of work when you're listening to an album? What do you what do you listen for?
That's a funny question for me because it's always a little bit different. You know, I look at sometimes if an album is produced really well, if the songs fall down a line really well, if there's the way that they hit my ears, they give me kind of a tension and release. I look at music like a soundtrack. It like John Coltrane on the Sunday mornings. Sometimes I look for great lyrics that connects with my life. I guess overall that's what I look for. I look for something that connects with me. I look for something that I associate with.
Top 3 musicians of all time? And why?
There's no doubt in my mind for me that Louis Armstrong would be one of my top three always. Not only did he develop a sound. He developed it from a street intellect that just... I don't know. It just made sense to me. You know, it was just it was a language. It was more than a sound, it was really…It was a language. And that language wasn't just kind of kept in a bottle and held over here, you know? He shared that language in a lot of situations. And, I just think it's the way that he approached everything. There was just to me, there was a genius, a giant. And like, 100 years later, you still learn from him. Duke Ellington would be another one who is a massive, massive influence. Again, the same as like a Louis Armstrong, but not maybe so much the sound, but the orchestration and the choice of who he would use around him. He knew how to pick a great band. He knew if he was doing an album like "Harlem", he knew just the right players to pick it. But, if he was doing an album like "Afro Bossa", he knew just the right players to pick. Each one of those just came out like a story to me. They just unfolded. Then I think a third would be, no doubt, Ja Wobble, who came out of England in the seventies. I grew up listening to a lot of Punk and Post-Punk growing up in the seventies and eighties. He had this big kind of ominous Reggae mantra tone that came over it, and it was so boom, boom, boom, boom. It was such a wobble to it, such a drive.. that low, I'd just felt like it came from..Heaven. He just rode those waves, man. It immediately struck me within a few notes. To this day, no matter what level of technical proficiency I see, it doesn't have the impact of those couple of notes I remember watching come out in that video. Hearing that music pulls on something in me that I can't explain. It's almost reminiscent, I feel like I miss it.
How do you feel about music nowadays? What's your thoughts on mainstream?
Well, I've always worked in creative music and the Jazz realm, but I'm good friends with a lot of people in the business. I'll tell you something right now, there's nothing lazy about the weekend or Justin Bieber. Katy Perry. There's nothing. Not a thing that's lazy. What they do is definitely entertainment. There's definitely rules that they play within. There's definitely expected things from them. There is a bit of a more of a simplicity. When I say simplicity I don't mean simple mindedness. There is a difference. I say simplicity because sometimes.. simplicity is what people need. Good love songs. They're those kinds of things. So yeah, I always think that though it's not always my style, and though I do hear things that are just little add ons thrown in that, you know, are cookie cutter and a little fun, I don't think that there's anything lazy about being a Pop musician. These people write a lot of their own music. They work with great writers. We're living in a much more visual and audible world together. You know, it's not like you sit down and listen to just the 78 anymore and go off to work, right? You're on a computer. You listen to things. You're seeing things. I don't think badly of them. I think that they work hard. I did. I appreciate them even if I don't listen to them. And, it's not my thing all the time.
If you could be a part of any band, past or present..what band would it be?
Duran Duran. Just because it was just that was kind of our image of what you what you saw kind of a Rock band doing. And, it was kind of a nice in-between. I never really wanted to be a Heavy Metal player, even though I like the Heavy Metal guys. Yeah, I never wanted to be a a straight Punk player but they had this kind of nice in between. They had this kind of Dance groove. It was coming off like Chic and bands like that. They had this kind of Disco bass line and things they were doing and whatnot. So I really got into that, even though they were playing in kind of a Post-Punk mod world, they were falling also into a Pop realm. They were also falling into kind of a funky dance room. They also had all the girls (laughs).
What are instruments do you play?
I play bass mainly. Bass guitar is my main instrument. I tinker around with a few other instruments so I can tinker on the piano. I can tinker on the guitar, I can tinker on stuff like that. I can get a little bit of something out of most stuff, but I really prefer the bass, and I write on the bass. It just seems to be the instrument that has come to me. I write melodies, I write chords. I write full songs on the bass. It's just my instrument, you know what I mean? It's something that I can just find all the little parts on there that I need to find.
The Erie music scene… what do you feel like it lacks, if anything? And how do you think we can get there?
I feel it lacks a lot right now. I feel it's probably lacking and more than it's ever in the past. I remember a very big family, musicians of musicians in this town. I remember gigs all the way up and down the street. Yeah, I think what we need to do is we need more places that are about music. Again, not restaurants that have bands in them, but clubs that wanted to be music clubs again. They need to find and figure out the dynamic that still wants to really come out and see live music. Where they want to see it. But, I think we need to stuff it into everything. I think we need to encourage bands again. I think we need to encourage originality. I mean, I think this comes from one thing and one thing only that here has been lacking for a serious long time. I’ve said it many times, and I'm equally as responsible for it… and that is mentorship. Mentorship comes with a lot of responsibility. It only comes from showing people geographically what our sound can be in this city that we live in, because every city develops a sound geographically. Absolutely. We have great bands here. We have amazing musicians. We've created amazing situations and memories in this town. But, we are not looking hard enough about who's coming up. We are not pulling these people on to the bandstand. We're not pulling them into jam sessions anymore like we used to.
Closing remarks. You have the floor. What else would you like to say?
I'm just I think at 50 years of age, I'm just glad to be sitting on this kind of perch in between absolutely fantastic people that came before us and and and people that are like the amazing people that are coming up underneath us. I feel like we have a lot to teach, but I also feel like we have a lot to learn from. And, I don't mean that as a clichéd sound. The young people now are attached to a whole other world and it's a world of both audio, audio and visual, and they've come together into one. It's a very dimensional world. It's not flat in any way, right? You know what I mean? There's a lot coming at us. It's very fused together. There's no real, real decade of kind of like one dimensional ism. There's a lot of these ingredients that have been really thrown together. I'm anticipating just what the future is going to bring with them.