MIKE STERN | MASTER OF IMPROV | PART TWO

In the first part of our interview, we talked with Mike about the new sound on his latest album, his collaborations with Richard Bona and Victor Wooten, his influences, as well many other topics. Giddee up for Part 2 of the interview with this true legend.

GH: It seemed like there was a big difference in your sound from your “Fat Time” solo on Man with the Horn (Miles Davis’ 1981 comeback album), to your first album Upside Downside. To me, you moved from being a jazz oriented rock guitarist to a rock oriented jazz guitarist? Did you notice that change yourself? Were you going there?

MS: I think I was going there in the kind of writing that I was doing. Maybe the warmth of my sound. But I like both, so its hard for me to say where its going to stay. Its really dictated by the kind of stuff that I am writing.

GH: When did you start studying with Charlie Banacos (widely revered jazz educator) and did that change the jazz focus at all?

MS: Well I’ve been studying with him for years, even before Miles. I was actually playing more bebop back then in some ways. And when I played with Miles he said, “turn that shit up. I wanna hear some Hendrix.” But he liked the fact that I was into bebop. For his band though, he wanted who ever was playing guitar to play some rock, and it worked.

Yeah, my guitar teacher in high school, who really turned me onto your playing, said that he picked up the guitar after seeing your “Fat Time” solo on Saturday Night Live.

That’s great man! That’s beautiful. That was fun playing on Saturday Night Live. That was a treat. Even though Miles was really sick. He had pneumonia that whole time, and a few weeks afterwards he had a stroke. And we had to cancel some gigs. But then he came back stronger than ever. It was a great opportunity to get to play with him.

The thing I loved about Miles was that he played from the heart. No matter what kind of music it was, he let his heart guide him. He didn’t care what anybody said, you know, “This stuff is better than that stuff.” You know that kind of shit, he didn’t care.

When I first joined him he was telling me how much he loved The Who and Pete Townshend. And the vibe of that band. And then Hendrix, of course, he was into. And all that kind of stuff.

And then in the same breath he’d also tell me how much he loved Bird (Charlie Parker, the innovator of bebop). And why that was such a cool band. And how Bird would bring in this new music that he was working on and Miles would say, (in Stern's best Miles impersonation) “Daaamn, (pause) a lot of chords, a lot of them chords.” You know that kind of shit. You know a whole different perspective.

But it wasn’t like he was thinking about it that much. Or ruling it out. You know if it was two chords, it was still great. IF it felt right to him. So he let his heart guide him.

And Miles always played his heart out. No matter what the vibe was, or if he was in a bad mood, and sometimes he could get in some evil moods, but he would always play his heart out. So it was really special working with him.

Now you played with Jaco Pastorius as well. What do you think it was that set the two of them apart from other players?

Well just that, and I think that it’s true of all great players that I’ve had a chance to play with and get close to. It is that they are open to all kinds of music for one thing, and they fight for that. They really believe in that…

That everything is cool…

And they like some stuff better…

But even Joe Henderson (legendary jazz saxophonist), who was very much a jazz saxophonist, he used to talk about how great Stevie Wonder was. One time I talked to him about Stevie Ray Vaughn, and he said, (in his best Joe Henderson voice), “Man, Stevie Ray was a motherfucker, man. At what he did, he was a motherfucker.”

For, Jaco and Miles it was very much the same thing, they obviously were into all types of music. They were both so into James Brown. Rock, you know it didn’t matter, and they both really liked to have fun. But they were also very serious about the music.

They were different people too. They came from very different places. Musically and personally. But they both played and experienced music from the heart.

Which I loved.

You mix up the personnel on every album quite a bit, you will have a couple different players at a lot of the instruments. Do you have certain players in mind for each track coming in?

Well I just try to shape it around what I’ve written. But if I start thinking this guy would sound great here, and this guy would sound great there, then I’d have 15 different players on each album. So I really try to figure out who’s playing I’d be most comfortable with.

And a lot of who is on my records is just who I’m playing with at the time.

It seems like Lincoln Goines (next level bass player who’s played with Wayne Krantz and Mike Stern) has been on a lot of your recent records.

I’ve played more gigs with Lincoln Goines than with just about everybody else.

He’s phenomenal. Just a great, great player. He’s not chops oriented, but he can solo beautifully. He’s got a really fresh way of soloing, but it’s more like his bass playing is really unique and incredibly supportive. And very imaginative and exciting. So I’ve done a lot of playing with him.

You’ve seemed to find a home in NYC at 55 Grand and 55 Bar (55 Christopher), have the rooms been different but special homes to you?

Well, 55 Christopher has been a little calmer (laughs)…those years at Grand Street, were wild as a motherfucker (laughs), you know what I mean.

Yeah (with laughs).

You know at Grand Street (in the mid 80s), Jaco was playing there, and actually everyone was playing there. The stage was a little bigger, so lots of people used to sit in. And it was just jam time. We never slept. I mean we lived above there, myself and my wife. We never slept almost at all. We’d be playing non-stop, and then people would come up and hang out, it was one big amazing hang (laughs). A little bit too much, a little bit over the top.

But it had it’s good points too (laughs).

So I heard that Grand Street was going under. And so Jeff Andrews (Stern's longtime former bass player) found another place, the 55 Bar to play at. So I was playing both places at the same time. I always like having places close by to play at when I am not on the road.

We started out at the 55 Bar just playing duo, and then we added a drummer, and he had to play chopsticks, because we were scared it was going to be too loud. And then Adam Nussbaum (drummer known for playing with John Abercrombie) came down there and started using brushes, and then it was the sticks, and it got louder and louder and no one seemed to mind.

But it seems like 55 Bar will be around for a while. So we play there a couple times a week. It’s really fun. It’s a little bit cooler, but still so much musical energy, it’s really great.

Have you checked out any of the more electronic stuff that is coming into the music?

Well I’ve been real down with what Tim Lefebvre from Krantz’s, band has been doing. I am into that stuff a lot. I would really like to get into it eventually. And I love what Medeski, Martin, and Wood have been doing. I love the garage band vibe to it. It is where I came from. The looser the better. I would love to play with a lot of those players. I am trying to figure out how to hook it up. There is so much stuff you want to do, unfortunately you can’t do everything. You have to say “I’ll put this over here until I get a chance.”

Last question for you, The Who or The Rolling Stone, who is your first draft pick?

WOW! That’s a hard one. Man that’s impossible. Because the other day, I heard “My Generation” for the first time in a long time, and I thought to myself, “What a fucking great song. What a vibe to that tune.” But then you hear “Satisfaction”, and it’s the same thing, just WOW!

I would say both of them. Their vibe, and The Beatles, I mean The Beatles have a whole different vibe. But it’s an interesting question, because their (The Who and The Rolling Stones) attitude was similar. They were the bad boys. You know that kind of shit. And the Beatles were a little more la-la-la pop, which I love too.

I’d say The Stones if push came to shove, but its so tough. You know I’ll hang up the phone and remember a song of The Who’s and then I’ll think I made the wrong choice.

Yeah, I am a Who guy myself. I mean I love The Stones, but I think The Who for me was a little more melodic. They both had the mix of raw and melodic, but to me The Stones were a little more on the raw side and The Who a little more on the melodic side.

In some ways, especially the rock opera stuff. Which was so great for that time. But the early stuff of The Who is what really gets me, you know that punk shit. I mean “My Generation,” what an incredible song, even today. What a vibe on that, where did that come from. It’s timeless.

Man, great interview man, I really appreciate it.

It’s been wonderful talking with you. Thanks so much.

Thank you, man.

Recommended Discs if you are just getting into Mike Stern:
1. Jaco Pastorius – Live in NY Volume 5
2. Mike Stern – Play
3. Mike Stern – Standards
4. Miles Davis - Star People
5. Miles Davis – The Man With the Horn
6. Mike Stern - Voices

Geoff Harrison
JamBase | San Francisco
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 2/18/02]

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