American Steve Oliver is a charting nylon-string guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer. He's well-known for his soulful singing, snappy guitar lines, playful vocalese, and innovative approach to the synth guitar. His fluid, deft, melodic playing style has resonated with musicians as well as audiences. In addition to his own recordings, he has played sideman, producer, and vocalist to a number of contemporary jazz artists including Rick Braun, Larry Carlton, and Gato Barbieri. In the world of soul and R&B, he has also worked with the Neville Brothers and many others. Beginning with First View, his 1999 leader debut, Oliver has employed his precise lead style in hooky R&B- and world music-flavored jazz compositions that reflect his greatest influences, Pat Metheny, Michael Hedges, and Santana among them. As a recording artist, he's placed more than a dozen singles on the contemporary jazz charts including several number ones: "Fun in the Sun” held the top spot for eight weeks. 2002's Positive Energy hit the Top 20 and ranked number one on the year-end list of Canada's 50 most-played recordings in 2003. He was named Best New Artist and Best Guitar Player the same year. 2006's Radiant was co-produced with Spyro Gyra keyboardist Tom Schuman and keyboardist and programmer Michael Broening. It landed well inside the Top 50 on the jazz album charts. His concert offering, 2008's One Night Live, charted even higher. While Oliver always included a few vocal tracks on his own jazz albums, he delivered his first all-vocal set with 2016's Pictures and Frames, a full-on shift from smooth jazz to adult contemporary pop.
In the mid-'90s, Oliver became an established sideman on guitar and vocals in contemporary jazz. He was an audience fave on recordings and in concert, and a former member of Acoustic Alchemy. During a featured opening stint with former Rippingtons' percussionist Steve Reid's band, Oliver expanded his own following. It was 1996 when Reid contacted Oliver at the last minute to fill in for a canceled opening act. Oliver hit the stage as a solo act and Reid was impressed with the guitarist's vocalese skills and summery sound. Oliver had come to vocalese not through King Pleasure or Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, but through Bobby McFerrin and Pat Metheny's work with Richard Bona and David Blamires, who sang along with guitar solos. Being a fan of the earthy Metheny sound, Reid hired Oliver after the gig and featured him in his touring band. Reid's Mysteries and Passion in Paradise albums featured Oliver not only as guitarist, but as a songwriter as well.
Oliver struck out on his own in 1999 with his debut, First View, released by Night Vision. The album spawned three hit singles on smooth jazz radio and earned the guitarist a Debut Artist of the Year award from Smooth Jazz News. Duties in Reid's band kept Oliver busy until 2002, when he released Positive Energy on Native Language. Spyro Gyra keyboardist Tom Schuman was in the producer's chair for Oliver's third album, 3-D, released by Koch in 2004. 2006's Radiant's standout tracks include a reimagined cover of Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth" and "Good to Go," a Latin-fusion explosion featuring Oliver's guitar, vocalese, vocal percussion, and trippy production ambience. It landed inside the Top 50 at contemporary jazz, and was followed by a holiday collection entitled Snowfall that winter. Oliver eschewed the studio in favor of an audio/visual concert package entitled One Night Live in 2008. He was a one-man orchestra capable of numerous sonic delights including vocal percussion, breezy, wordless singing, and synth guitar simulating everything from a grand piano to bass, flute, and orchestrated strings. It too placed inside the contemporary jazz Top 50. His love for Brazilian, Latin, and African grooves shone brightly on 2010's Global Kiss. After a remastered and expanded version of 3-D in 2010, Oliver continued his global music expressions with 2012's World Citizen. His all-star studio cast included keyboardist Tom Schuman and Trinidad born drummer/percussionist Bonny B (both Spyro Gyra). Among the players were also saxophonists Paul Taylor, Andrew Neu, and Will Donato, bassists Eddie Reddick, K.T. Tyler, and Yes' Billy Sherwood, as well as Moody Blues keyboardist Alan Hewitt. The guitarist spent no less than three years touring in support. The stopgap Best Of: So Far followed in 2014.
When Oliver returned to the studio proper, it was for the purpose of delivering a set of mainstream adult contemporary tunes for the first time. His songwriting had achieved what he considered a career pinnacle and he was anxious to showcase it.
IlluminateRecorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, 2016's Pictures and Frames was the artist's first all-vocal album, deeply influenced by the music of John Mayer and Sting. It featured percussionist and exotic soundscape creator Steve Reid, bassist Lee Sklar, and jazz/rock drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Its diverse range of material featured pointed social observations in "Instant Gratification" as well as lush romantic expressions including "A Waltz to You" and "Long Time Comin'," a showcase for the singer's a cappella virtuosity. The following year, Oliver issued Illuminate, his first collection of all-new original material in seven years. Dedicated to late guitarists Chuck Loeb and Allan Holdsworth, the set featured Oliver's instantly recognizable guitar lines alongside bass virtuoso Jimmy Haslip, the drummer Joel Taylor, keyboards from Brian Simpson (who had also worked on Pictures and Frames), and saxophonist Nelson Rangell. Its title-track lead single placed at number five on the contemporary jazz charts. Oliver and Simpson were so inspired by the Illuminate sessions that they re-entered the studio immediately, joining forces for Unified. The set captured their interplay in 11 originals, two of which leaned toward EDM. The pair were supported by bassist Alex Al, drummer Eric Valentine, and percussionist Ramon Yslas. Previewed by Smoothjazzradio.com and SoundCloud, the set was issued by Shanachie Entertainment in January of 2020.