Signing Story: Okonski

Date Signed: November 2020

Label: Colemine Records

Type of Music: Jazz

Web: instagram.com/steve.okonski

PR: Pavement PR, [email protected]

A&R: Terry Cole

Steve Okonski’s journey from classically trained pianist to leader of his own jazz trio—simply named Okonski—by way of popular R&B band Durand Jones & The Indications, began back in college. 

After two years as a piano performance major at Eastern Michigan University, and a semester of jazz studies at City College of New York, Okonski began playing organ trio sessions in Harlem and Americana jams at the Jalopy Tavern in Brooklyn, where he met and played with drummer Aaron Frazer, co-founder of Durand Jones’ band. When The Indications went on tour in 2016 after releasing their debut album on Loveland, OH-based soul label Colemine Records, Frazer invited Okonski to join. The pianist has been with the ensemble ever since, covering two more studio albums and multiple tours.

When Okonski met Coleman owner, Terry Cole, Cole told the pianist he knew he was into jazz and was open to releasing albums in different genres. Cole wanted to put out music on the label that was jazz-oriented but had the same sonic feel as the soul music he was releasing. Okonksi says, “His vision was to create the modern equivalent to the legendary Blue Note recordings mastered by Rudy Van Gelder, that had a gritty feel like Motown/Stax.”

In November 2020, upon Cole’s invitation, Okonski brought to his studio (above the Colemine Record Shop) a dozen beat-oriented jazz compositions, along with Frazer and Indications bassist Michael Isvara (“Ish”) Montgomery. The last night of the session, Cole ran tape, turned off the lights and told the trio to improvise. The resulting tune, the moody, meditational “Sunday,” ultimately became the last track on Magnolia, the debut album released under the deal Okonski signed with Colemine. 

The trio booked a second week of recording in June 2021, with the intent of capturing more of that spontaneous energy. During the session, all tracks were improvised and recorded live to a Tascam 388, structured to allow the group’s intuitive chemistry to shape the melodies and arcs of the music. 

“When we did the first sessions,” Okonski says, “we had confidence we could create something special. Terry’s desire to sign us happened as organically as the music. This type of instrumental music takes Colemine in a very different direction. For me, it’s equally exciting and scary to have complete agency over the music we’re making.”