This exclusive interview for PlayJazzGuitar.com
took place on Monday August 21st 2012.
Hi Mike - your new CD "All Over The Place" sounds fantastic.
Are you happy with it? Can you tell us a little about it's genesis?
I am very happy with All Over The Place. It's a more adventurous
effort. I was fortunate to work with many amazing musicians.
I notice a number of different rhythm section players on this
CD. Was this a logistical decision or do you simply love to play
with different players?
It was a bit of both things, actually. I love to play with different
musicians. It's very inspiring. And also, I had tunes in mind,
some of them were inspired by some of my favorite players. So
I thought, let me see If I can get some of them to collaborate
with me on this record. I ended up getting them all.
I notice quite a pop influence on a couple of tracks, namely
"Cameroon" and "Light". Do you feel this is
a departure for you and what has the reasponse been from your
It's not a departure at all. I have always been influenced by
certain stuff. I always dug the artist Sting and love soul music.
Growing up in the sixties, I would listen to nothing but soul
music on the radio..such as Motown. I love the Beatles. These
different sounds have been on my records from time to time. I
love african grooves. Cameroon has that African feeling. I like
popular tunes from every era, from jazz standards to pop. If a
tune gets to my heart, I don't care where it comes from. I don'
t really question it. I love the way the tunes came out on this
record. Everybody was great!
Can we talk guitar just a little, and your background? Were you
self taught? Did you get any formal music training?
I was 12 years old when I began playing the guitar. My mom wanted
me to play the piano. I made the decision to play guitar and in
deciding to learn the guitar...it gave me sort of an independence.
It was a really good feeling. My first guitar was a nylon string
guitar that cost 50 bucks. I played that for a while before upgrading
to an electric guitar. I went to music school at Berklee and truthfully
wasn't sure if I would be able to make it. Wasn't confident that
I could make a livelihood from music. But I really wanted it to
work out. At the age of 22 years old, when I joined Blood, Sweat
and Tears...that's when it kind of hit me then that I could really
be successful in pursuing music.
What technical aspects of the guitar gave you the most problem,
if any, in your formative years? How did you overcome them?
At first, it was actually learning the notes and the physical
aspect of playing some tempos. There were technical problems and
issues of memorizing stuff. I had to choose different fingerings
...figure out how to play certain things with a pick. I still
go up against technical problems, sometimes when I try to play
the hornline on a guitar. I transcribe a John Coltrane solo and
try to play some of it on the guitar. Some is impossible, but
some you can catch. The possiblities on a guitar and the challenges
one comes up against are infinite. If there are technical things
you just can't overcome, the main thing is to play from your heart.
There are plenty of people that dont have a lot of technique on
instruments that are some of my favorite musicians.
What musicians have had the most impact on your guitar playing
throughout your life?
I had some wonderful mentors. Charlie Banacos...I studied with
him for 30 years. He was a piano player, but was a teacher of
all instruments. Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny were great mentors
who inspired me, as well. When I met Pat Metheny, he pushed me
to get out and play more. Pat gave me the confidence, that extra
boost that I needed. He heard something he liked. Pat truly believed
in me. Studying at Berklee was a great environment for me. It
allowed me the opportunity to meet great friends and many up and
Were there any specific books or educational
material that turned your life around?
Musically, books such as method manuals have been great. When
I first went to Berklee, they assigned the William "Bill"
Leavitt method. I learned a lot from that. Also, there is the
Joe Pass method and chord solos. There are tons of books for guitar.
I like to do transcribing myself instead of reading transcriptions
from a book. I would much rather transcribe solos from recordings
myself. That is probably the way I learned the most. That and
playing as much as possible all the time. I love jam sessions.
If I don't have gigs, I am playing/practicing with another guitar
or bass player.
What guitar players in particular do you like to listen to today?
Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, John Scofield, Vic Juris,
Bill Frissell, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Kevin Eubanks, Wayne
Krantz and Oz Noy. Also, Adam Rogers, Lee Ritenour, Scott Henderson
and Lionel Loueke. I think all those guys kick my ass and that's
a good thing. They give me a lot of inspiration. I can learn from
all of them. There are more guitar players that I enjoy listening
to. If I mentioned everyone, the list would be too long. There
is a lot of inspiration out there!
Do you practice obsessively these days? If so how much time
do you dedicate to it?
I devote usually 4 hours a day between playing annd practicing
when I am home. When I am on the road, it is much more difficult.
But I do practice alone and with another guitar player or bass
player as often as possible, but sometimes more.
Are you happy with where your career is going
at the moment? Do you have any wild career ambitions left you
still need to accomplish?
There are always things that I would love to do and other people
I would like to record and play with. But I have been very fortunate
to play with some great players over the years and have been able
to make my own cds and play my own music.
How do you feel about the record business right now?
The business is very difficult right now. Much more so than when
I was coming up. With illegal downloads and everything being free
on YouTube and the creation of things like Spotify and Rhapsody,
there is not a lot of income coming in for the artist who puts
in the work to write the tunes. I don't consider this a major
problem for me because I have been lucky enough to come up at
a time when,overall the situation was fairer for musicians. One
of the unintended consequences of computers and internet is undercutting
what music is worth and unfortunately making it more difficult
for young players to make a living.
What advice would you give to a guitar student looking to enter
the music profession today?
The only absolute guarantee I tell students is that you have the
music and no one can take it away from you. The more you put into
it, the more the passion for the music can grow. Odds are that
the better you get at playing the instrument and music in general,
the more possibility for work there is. Then there is the question
of letting as many people as possible know that you are interested
in doing gigs. Give out your business cards, get out and speak
to people. Let them know you are around and ready to play.
Visit Mike Stern on the web at www.mikestern.org
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