Steve Christofferson is a performer and educator

Music Man

Steve Christofferson, of Washougal, performs at several venues including the Heathman Hotel, Wilf’s, Benson Hotel and Arrivederci Wine & Jazz Bar, in Milwaukie, Ore. (pictured). He is scheduled to play the piano Saturday, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at K’Syrah Catering, Wine and Bistro, in downtown Camas.

Music Man

A local musician has a gig at least four times a week.

When Steve Christofferson, of Washougal, plays a piano, it can be with solo singers, quartets or orchestras. He has written “a tune or two” and played on other people’s recordings.

Christofferson, 56, has also participated in week long residence camps for adults and high school musicians in Port Townsend, Wash., and at Stanford University.

He has worked with some Washougal High School students as they prepare to perform in the Blue Note Cafe series at the school.

“I love the Blue Note Cafe,” Christofferson said. “School concerts are nothing new, but anyone can try out for it. It’s a student led thing.”

He has toured Europe with the Alan Jones Sextet, and he has performed in China with Mia Nicholson.

Christofferson has traveled throughout the world while performing for 34 years with Nancy King.

“She is an underground legend, a jazz singer born in Oregon,” he said.

Christofferson’s experiences with King included recording eight songs, “live, no over-dubs, in the center of one of Europe’s best orchestras — The Metropole, in Holland.

“The producer was really charged up by my melodica playing, and insisted I use it on four of the tracks,” Christofferson added. “That may be the first time the instrument has been featured so prominently with a great orchestra.”

A German label released the recording as a CD, “Straight Into Your Heart.”

The melodica was a gift from one of Christofferson’s mentor’s students at Mt. Hood Community College. His mentor, Hal Malcolm, gave him a job teaching jazz improvisation at Mt. Hood.

Christofferson credits his family for some of his musical influences.

His father was an engineer who taught himself to read piano music so he could play the classics.

“When I was little, I sat on the floor by his feet,” Christofferson said. “He also played Beethoven records in the dark, loudly.”

Christofferson said his older sisters always had the radio on.

“Before ‘divide and conquer’ demographics, pop stations played everything that was popular,” he said. “So after Nat King Cole, they’d play Gerry & The Pacemakers and then The Tijuana

Brass followed by ‘Puff The Magic Dragon.’”

While Christofferson misses that format, he appreciates 910 AM, a station that only plays northwest bands.

He describes himself as a former garage-band guitarist who picked up the keyboard after he heard the Beatles’ “White Album” in 1968.

“I was self taught, basically,” Christofferson said. “I had a few guitar lessons and piano lessons. I was such a bad student. My guitar teacher gave up on me.

“I took the guitar to my room and learned the songs I listened to on the radio by ear,” he added.

The older brother of a band member showed him how to play piano blues in the key of “C,” and Christofferson said he was “off and running” until age 15 when he heard Oscar Peterson.

“I don’t have perfect pitch,” he said. “Until then, I didn’t know anybody played piano blues in “F.”

When Christofferson turned 21, he saw fantastic musicians and great characters working the nightclubs.

“It felt like the Pacific Northwest was insulated in a good way,” he said. “When I heard players from LA and NYC, I was humbled by the discipline and proficiency.”

However, his greatest inspiration came from area musicians including David Friesen, Glen Moore and Jim Pepper.

“Their original approaches set them apart,” Christofferson said. “They were writing beautiful compositions as unique as their individual styles. Those things are still important to me, even though I’ve spent the last 12 years primarily working as a sideman — playing the standard repertoire known as ‘The Great American Songbook.’”

Christofferson is scheduled to perform Saturday, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at K’Syrah Catering, Wine and Bistro, 316 N.E. Dallas St., in downtown Camas.

“It’s been unusual to have a gig that is five minutes from my house,” he said. “It’s fun to have different people sit in with me to do a song or two.”

There is no cover charge, but reservations are suggested. For more information, call K’Syrah at 833-9429 or visit www.ksyrahcatering.com.