Mike Stern

John Wheatcroft con­tin­ues his look at jazz gui­tarists of all stripes, as he ex­am­ines a true player’s player, the in­cred­i­ble Mike Stern.

Guitar Techniques - - LESSON | JAZZ -

Mike Stern’s re­sume is a who’s who of jazz. Miles Davis, Billy Cob­ham, The Brecker Broth­ers, Jaco Pas­to­rius and hosts of oth­ers. He’s fea­tured in col­lab­o­ra­tions with John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Lee Rite­nour and Eric John­son and he also keeps in touch with up-and-com­ing play­ers, so keep your eyes peeled for a record­ing with French Gypsy jazz vir­tu­oso Adrien Moignard. At last count, Mike had recorded 17 al­bums as band­leader and he’s con­sis­tently ei­ther tour­ing the world or per­form­ing around New York, his home­town for many years.

You’d be hard pushed to find a mu­si­cian as en­thu­si­as­tic as Mike. He bounds with en­ergy and ra­di­ates pas­sion and joy when­ever he has a guitar in his hands. Even his ac­ci­dent in 2016 when he sus­tained dam­age to his arms af­ter a fall, caus­ing him to have to lit­er­ally glue the pick to his fin­gers while over­com­ing nerve dam­age, couldn’t put him off. But he’s back to full form and com­ing to a town near you very soon. Just try and stop him!

You need to see Mike live to get the full ex­pe­ri­ence. He’s phe­nom­e­nal, with an end­less vo­cab­u­lary of ideas: be­bop, blues, funk, rock, even some clas­si­cally in­spired lines and all with to­tal con­trol and com­plete spon­tane­ity. Stern is stead­fastly ded­i­cated to his art and con­tin­ues to de­vote as much time as he can to per­fect­ing it. Mike took les­sons at Berklee with play­ers like Pat Metheny and Mick Goodrick, and then cor­re­spon­dence stud­ies with pi­anist Char­lie Bana­cos. “I’m al­ways learn­ing,” he says. “Al­ways try­ing. It’s just an end­less jour­ney, a ‘more-you-know the less-you-know’ kind of thing. But I love it.”

Rather than spread our­selves too thinly, we’re fo­cus­ing on one spe­cific area of Mike’s play­ing: how to ap­proach a static chord vamp. This is an area in which he ex­cels, but don’t as­sume he’s not equally com­fort­able with fast and fu­ri­ous chord changes. In fact, in some in­stances this is how he imagines play­ing over one chord, with im­plied twists and turns to the har­mony, all spon­ta­neous and per­fectly ex­e­cuted. One con­sis­tent con­cept is just how com­fort­able Mike is at mix­ing dif­fer­ent har­monic ideas within a phrase. You’ll rarely see just one scale, arpeg­gio or con­cept. It’s clear that he can hear the im­pact of each of the 12 pos­si­ble tones against ev­ery pos­si­ble chord, know­ing in ad­vance which notes cre­ate ten­sion or dis­so­nance, which sup­port the har­mony and which cre­ate ex­ten­sions and con­so­nances. Any work you put into this will def­i­nitely be re­warded, so grab your guitar and let’s get stuck in.

NEXT MONTH John digs deep into the vo­cab­u­lary of gen­uine jazz gi­ant, the great Grant Green

Just keep it hap­pen­ing, no maT­ter what. Prac­tice ev­ery day. Just wa­ter the flow­ers. It’s good for the world, it’s good for ev­ery­body. Mike Stern

Mike Stern stays faith­ful to his Yamaha MS Sig­na­ture

Mike re­mains faith­ful to his Yamaha sig­na­ture, based on his favourite Tele­cast­ers with a Sey­mour Hot Rails in the bridge and a ’59 hum­bucker in the neck po­si­tion. Cho­rus comes from an old Yamaha SPX90, and there’s a small se­lec­tion of Boss ped­als. Mike gen­er­ally al­ter­nate picks and this makes a con­sid­er­able im­pact on the tone, favour­ing Fen­der medium picks and switch­ing be­tween bridge and neck pick­ups fre­quently. Choose the amp set­tings above for his high-gain lead tone.

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