One of the great jazz guitarists of his generation, Mike Stern has the unique ability to play with the finesse and lyricism of Jim Hall, the driving swing of Wes Montgomery and the turbulent, overdriven attack of Jimi Hendrix. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, Stern revered all three of those guitar immortals, along with such potent blues guitarists as Albert and B.B. King. Aspects of those seminal influences can be heard in his playing on the 18 recordings he has released as a leader or in his acclaimed sideman work for Miles Davis, Billy Cobham, the Brecker Brothers, Jaco Pastorius, Steps Ahead, David Sanborn, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Joe Henderson and the all-star Four Generations of Miles band.
Born on January 10, 1953, he began playing guitar at age 12, emulating the likes of B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. “I liked the feel of the guitar and I got hooked on it,” he recalled in an interview. “But I didn’t really get serious about it until I went to Berklee in 1971.” At the Berklee College of Music in Boston his focus shifted to jazz as he began an intensive period of woodshedding, immersing himself in records by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans while studying with guitarists Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny. During his stint at Berklee, he developed a keen appreciation for jazz guitar greats Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall, both of whom would exert a huge influence on his own playing. On a recommendation from Metheny, Stern landed a gig with Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1976 and remained with the band for two years, appearing on the BS&T albums More Than Ever and Brand New Day. That gig is also significant for introducing the guitarist to two musicians who would later figure prominently in his life — percussionist Don Alias and bassist Jaco Pastorius.
Mike Stern was presented with Guitar Player magazine’s Certified Legend Award on January 21, 2012. In June of that year, he released All Over the Place, which featured a delegation of high-caliber electric and acoustic bass players, including Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, Victor Wooten, Anthony Jackson, Dave Holland, Tom Kennedy, Will Lee and Victor Bailey. On 2014’s Eclectic, Stern went toe-to-toe with Texas guitar slinger Eric Johnson, cutting a wide stylistic swath on eleven originals while showcasing their mutual love of Jimi Hendrix on a cover of his slow blues classic, “Red House.” Recorded in three days at Johnson’s studio in Austin, Electric was hailed as “a dazzling outing from two formidable, well-matched guitar heroes” by Jazz Times magazine.
The guitar great continued to play with peerless authority while flaunting prodigious chops on 2017’s Trip and now exhibits that same impressive six-string prowess on Eleven.
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