Joe Steele

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Pianist Joe Steele, known simply as "Professor" to certain hipsters, usually is picked up by the all-important classic jazz fan's radar due to his recordings with drummer and bandleader Chick Webb, a…
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Pianist Joe Steele, known simply as "Professor" to certain hipsters, usually is picked up by the all-important classic jazz fan's radar due to his recordings with drummer and bandleader Chick Webb, a body of work that happens to include some of the earliest sides featuring the great vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. Steele graduated from the New England Conservatory: thus the nickname referencing academia. Following the mid-'20s he began gigging with the Savoy Bearcats, this group also providing the pianist with his initial recording opportunities.

In 1927 he worked at New York City's tasty Bamboo Inn in a combo fronted by Henri Saporo, then began leading Joe Steele & His Orchestra in the Big Apple. The latter group was recorded by the Victor label, laying down several versions of the leader's energy-efficient composition "Coal Yard Shuffle." During the early '30s the pianist was chosen to tour with the Pike Davis Orchestra as part of the Rhapsody in Blue revue, a job that lasted for nearly two years. Steele began forging and spinning piano parts for Webb shortly thereafter, staying in the Webb band through 1936. He remained based in New York City until his death in 1964 but according to discographers made no further recordings after the '30s.