*Steven “Bach” Sampson is one of the most exciting trombonists on the music scene. His charisma, personality, monstrous chops and stage presence are unmatched and the sense of humor he injects in his music is contagious. An eternal extrovert and always the life of most parties, he brings a sense of fun and joy that captivates audiences.
“I love seeing the people get excited,” said the trombonist, who hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, “and making people enjoy themselves, that’s the short of it.”
Indeed, there’s nothing short about Steven Sampson’s illustrious career as a musician. He graced the stage with Ella Fitzgerald at the ripe age of 15. He was one of the trombonists on one the late singer/songwriter Phyllis Hyman’s last projects. And, he has been a fixture on the local Philadelphia scene, playing with Arista Records’ popular recording artists Breakwater, and private parties for Jim Nabors, Jack Lord and Carol Burnett. “She was great,” said Steven Sampson of comedy legend Carol Burnett. “Just a great personality and an incredibly warm lady.” He also performed with Steve Rubin, who had a series of bands called “The Cutting-Edge Orchestras.” He also performed with The Stylistics and The Dells.
Personality, however, is not Steven’s only stage power. The musician studied trombone under Brian Pastor, who taught for 35 years in the Philadelphia school system at Franklin High School. This led to Steven playing with the Philadelphia Stage Band. He also studied under David Rupp, Principal trombonist from the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra.
“I did a lot of classical gigs for him.,” he said. “Once I got to a certain level, he said ‘I’ve got some jobs for you.”
He not only was a popular recruit for classical ensembles, but he also was recruited for several local bands, the first being a band called the “Salutation Organization.” “Horn players had to know the lines to the songs, like Chicago, Cold Blood, Blood Sweat and Tears and Tower of Power,” he said. “How it helped me was to get more experience and get more work.” He sharpened his chops playing for several local bands, including a band called “The Big Bone Band,” “Greg Scott and The Big Push,” and a Latino group called “Llamame.” Later, he joined the Marine Band and toured.
“The Marines were all about discipline,” he said, “They were all about professionalism and it helped me focus more because you’re in a controlled environment.” During that time. he traveled, playing for dignitaries and others at places as varied as Japan, Canada and Hawaii. “It was very exciting, meeting people from around the world and other musicians from around the world, as well,” said the talented musician.
When he returned and left the Marine Corps, he found plenty of work in Philadelphia as a musician, connecting with Henry McMillan, who still, to this day, calls him for session work and recording sessions. He later dropped out of the secular music scene, deciding to play for the church, playing for True Life Ministries.
“I needed to connect back with God more,” he said. Later, he returned to the secular scene for a very familiar reason. “I need to get some of this money out there,” he laughed. “I can still play, my chops were up, I had been playing in the church all the time, so I decided to return.” His first gig back was with a group called “Liquid Pleasure,” with a guy from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and they simply tore the house down. “If you guys want this gig, you got it,” said Steven of the bandleader. This led to many other engagements, cementing his popularity in Philadelphia.
“Bach” Sampson started playing the trombone at a very young age, at Wagner Junior High, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studying under Larry and Eleanor Alter. Larry Alter was known to be a tough teacher and orchestra conductor.
“Eleanor probably started more careers than Larry,” said Steven, because she was instrumental in getting kids into Germantown High, where Larry conducted the orchestra there. “Both of them were responsible for Kevin Eubanks (the former Tonight Show Musical Director) (and local Philadelphia musicians) Joe Sudler, Ricky Tate, Jacob Lane, all those cats.” And Larry Alter was a tough music instructor. He wanted a 100% commitment from his students. “He didn’t play,” laughed Steven. “He was a tough German cat. I’ve seen him pick up guys and throw them through the auditorium doors. Racism back then? We didn’t have that. You respected your teachers or they kicked your ass.”
And well, Alter had a soft spot for good musicians that practiced, even, well if they were doing something a bit out of line.
“I used to cut class and spend my time at the music hall all the time,” said Steven. “He would say, (puts on German voice) ’alright, alright, you guys can cut, but you’ve got to be playing your instrument. I want you practicing, I want to hear you.” Those practice sessions immensely helped his playing and soon, he found himself being recruited to play in local bands, which helped him find his recognizable style. “A lot of people said he was racist, but there wasn’t a racist bone in his body.” During that time, Kevin Eubanks also played in Germantown High’s orchestra. He gave Steven the nickname “Bach,” because Steven’s favorite trombones to play are Bach Stradivarius trombones and Steven plays them masterfully.
Steven’s future looks bright. Although sidelined because many venues are closed due to the pandemic, he looks forward to being on stage soon, performing with Henry McMillan and more promising engagements.
Steven Sampson’s charisma, personality, monstrous chops and stage presence is ‘tromboning’ him to tremendous success and look for even bigger things in his future.