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Mike Stern: Playing by Heart

By Published: March 19, 2004

AAJ: I'm hoping a lot of really great players will use him and his name will just spread.

MS: Well, it already has. He sells more records than anybody I know, to tell you the truth, in jazz, or whatever. He's got a huge following. He's got the hippy kind of (following)'

AAJ: Like the jam band thing.

MS: Yeah. I played with them at the Gavin convention one time with me and Bob Berg - ten years ago, when they were just starting ' and when I heard them, right away I said, 'That is some cool shit'. It's just different! It's entertaining and he's gonna grab some people, but I dug it right away. Some people - more jazz purists - they said, 'Banjo, what the hell's that?' And I went like''Shhh', 'cause, you know me, I like all kinds of shit. I don't just limit myself to this kind of music or that kind of music. Whatever gets your heart, and right away there was something about it that just got my heart, right away. I stayed, like, a bunch of tunes and I was fried. We got in that day and we played our little set and then they played and I still hung out for a while.

AAJ: I think it's a real inspired use of that texture.

MS: It was incredible. And then the whole thing they got going on is beautiful. More power to them.

AAJ: Have you heard that new triple disc ( Little Worlds )?

MS: I haven't heard that one. I know Bela was telling me they had so much music they didn't know what to do, they finally put out three in one.

AAJ: Yeah, it was only supposed to be one disc. You mentioned Bob. I was really sorry to hear about that.

MS: Yeah, Berg, man. The tune on the CD is for him. ('Remember'). It's for him because that's the kind of tune he would've tore up. I wanted to write one of the ballads for him, I mean, certainly he was, kind of, in my heart when I was writing a couple of those things but that tune just felt like, it kind of more celebrates his life and the kind of energy he had and it was very tragic and sudden.

AAJ: Just unbelievable.

MS: Yeah, it's unbelievable. But it's real. I mean, we hear about it all the time and then when it happens so close to your heart it's something that kind of makes you'take stock and appreciate every moment, if you can, without being naive. I mean, some moments you'd rather not live through. Some shit we all have to deal with. But certainly it was just really sad that he's gone. It's amazing when you lose somebody and you're that close to them, They're just in your heart forever.

AAJ: He had an incredible spirit.

MS: Definitely. And he left some great music. I was transcribing some of his stuff the other day. It was killing - on the 'Standards' record.

AAJ: Yeah. That's a great album

MS: It's a beautiful record, man. I was really honored to be asked to be on it. He kind of asked me at the last minute. He said, 'Man, I got a tune for you on this'. I'm like, 'Cool'. It's the only original one on the record. But he burns it. Gary Novak and Ed Howard (Berg's rhythm section); they have such a beautiful hookup together.

AAJ: That was a great band. Are you close to his family at all or do you stay in touch?

MS: Yeah, definitely, with Aria, his wife, I talk to a lot. I'm trying to make sure I stay connected. So that was cool to do and I was also playing with Victor and Dennis ' had the gig - and kind of at the last minute they were both in town and I said I'd love to get Victor on this record on a couple of things, so that was one of them and it kind of felt right in a certain way because Victor; I was doing a gig with him in LA ' he never played with Bob, he always dug him. But when I got the news, Peter Erskine called me about Berg and I was in LA at the hotel where they put you up for Catalina. So he called me there, and gave me the news. I was glad it was Erskine 'cause he's a close friend. And I was just really kind of devastated and Victor was just Victor. He's a very spiritual cat and he was on the gig that whole week, so just by being him, it helped me through. So it was kind of appropriate in a way, for me, that even though he's never played with Bob Berg there was some connection there for me. He was on the record on that tune so that still very much felt right and also logistically right, because we were going to do a gig the next day at the Bottom Line.

But I was so happy with the way that came out. You know, after you write the tunes for the record and then you play your on own stuff on it - and you're always trying to do some different stuff and get some slightly different sounds. I like to keep my own voice, I don't like to just play different for different sake. I certainly just always want to try to get different phrases and different stuff happening and just different vibes, from record to record, and have some continuity between records, also. That's what I'm shooting for. But the thing that excites me the most is when people play their asses off on it, 'cause then they're playing your music and you look over and some guy's like killing! (laughs). And that happened everywhere on this whole record with everybody. And it's just beautiful energy. And it feels like an honor to hear that kind of stuff. It's beautiful. You can't force that. You've got to be into the music. So it was big fun to make this record.

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