A look into steven m. lee

and the memphis jazz workshop

by Duy Nguyen and Alden Zuck

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Steven M. Lee is the artist, director, and founder of the Memphis Jazz Workshop.

Steven was born in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Memphis around the age of 1. He graduated Carver High School with the class of 1987 and left to Knoxville to study with ‘the great Donna Brown, who is a phenomenal jazz pianist’.

He left there and moved to Vegas, traveled around Europe, back to Memphis, and then resided in New York in 1996 for roughly ten to twelve years performing around the city. He was also the music director for several musicians and worked with a host of musicians that he ‘had the pleasure and blessing of working with’. He then left in 2009 to move back to Memphis and has been teaching ever since.

Steven talks about his path . . .

“I had no idea I would be teaching for these number of years, but it’s good and I really think of it as a ministry, not a job. I think I was called to help motivate kids and give them the tools they need to be successful. I was blessed to have some band mentors that I can still look up to today and talk to, that experience is what I want to share with these kids.”

Steven has been playing music since he was eight years old and has always had a certain feeling that brings him peace when he is playing that goes back for years.

“I feel right at home when I’m sitting down playing a piece of music, especially improve because it’s more freedom. It’s nothing that planned, you just go for it. You know all the ideas that you’ve practiced and studied for and you put it together and tell a story. It’s the freedom of expression”.

The Memphis Jazz Workshop is a non-profit organization committed to cultivate young musicians in the Memphis area by giving them opportunities for learning and performance opportunities with professional local musicians while embracing the legacy of jazz music at Memphis. Memphis has a very rich heritage of jazz music which the world is familiar with but unfortunately the city of Memphis is not. Our goal is to first start a workshop and let the city expand from the workshop, from there we have other things in store for the city which pertains to jazz that will be revealed at a later time.

The motivation for the Creation of the Memphis Jazz Workshop

“If the students aren’t inspiring to become a professional jazz musician, one thing I would like them to leave with is skills they can transfer. One thing we teach the kids is you have to practice a couple hours a day and you have to know what to practice, that’s time management and discipline.”

Steven also describes how when one is learning a difficult piece of music you start out a lot of times thinking there’s no way to learn such a hard piece, but once you get it down it is the feeling of being successful through the music that he also wants the kids to feel.

“The kids who are serious about doing this for a living, they have to understand the importance of practicing and the importance of relationships.”

Steven places the importance on creating relationships because the people that the kids are in the band with now could be looking for a musician in the future. Having this network of musicians through this program is important when pursuing a career as a musician.

Hutchison Music School

The Memphis Jazz Workshop did a collaboration with Hutchison Music School for the whole month of February. “They have a piano lab and the perfect rooms, it was just the perfect spot to do a workshop. It’s a great feeling to work with Tracey Ford at Hutchison, she’s always kind and whatever we needed there was never a problem. We just want to publicly thank Hutchison school for their space and time.”

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Steven M. Lee

“What I have to say to the city is just to support the Memphis Jazz Workshop, not just financially but just come to our concerts, send your kids, and if you know of a child that’s talented and wants to learn more about jazz and music, send them too! We start at age 11-18 and are open to any child from all over the city, we just need kids who are really serious about music and we need your support.”

Come out to support the Memphis Jazz Workshop and watch everybody who has been a part of camp for the winter months perform in front of their friends and family! They haven’t selected a specific place or time yet, but it will be around the third week of April.


Ulysses Owens and the Students

“I’ve been to a lot of jazz music workshops but how Ulysses presented his workshop was perfect”.

When Ulysses came to teach the workshop, he didn’t just come and play for the kids like some people do, but he had each student get up and play as a band as he gave some tough love and critiques, allowing the kids to be engaged the full two hours. The first hour was ensemble playing and learning different techniques and the second hour was based on entrepreneurship. What Ulysses did was not just about playing an instrument he explains how you can make a living as a musician.

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