Mike Stern: Playing by Heart
AAJ: So it's been a good move. I've noticed there are a lot of really good artists on ESC.
MS: They're very particular about who they sign and then they push whoever they're with to their maximum. And that's kind of what you need for jazz, people who will hang with it for more than 3 months, kind of thing. Although, WEA worked for me great. Atlantic, I gotta say, for me, worked fucking great. It was more than what I needed or just as much as I needed. Certain things will be better about this new record company, certain things won't be as good. But I think overall it'll be about the same. And I just want to try to get the music out there and see and keep doing this 'cause I love it.
AAJ: So Leni was supposed to be on this one or the last one?
MS: She was supposed to be on the last one ( Voices ) and then she couldn't. She was out of town and we couldn't schedule it. And we try to keep our separate careers, because you need that space when you're married, you know what I mean? (laughs). And its worked out great, we've been married like twenty'we don't even know even know how many years exactly. Like 23 years or something like that.
AAJ: So, the flip side: how do you guys deal with the time apart?
MS: It's hard. Sometimes that's the hardest part. Nothing's perfect. Sometimes she comes on the road, but I've been home since December and then January's just to be with her more 'cause I missed her, 'cause I was hittin' it a lot on the road. But that's just one of those things. We try to Do the best we can. When she's on the road, I'm on the road. We try to schedule it at the same time so we're home together, too. We end up spending a lot of time together.
AAJ: When did you start swimming?
MS: When did I start? I was jogging some. I mean, for years the only exercise I got was drinking and snorting. But I was more like just carrying on like crazy, I was a maniac. Everything I could possibly put into my bloodstream, I was doing it. And then when I got sober some years ago I found I needed something to take the edge off, so I started running a little bit and one time I hurt my back a little. I was playing with Mike Brecker for a week at the Bluenote and I'd pulled my back out. So I played the Bluenote all week with a brace on and I realized - I can't run ' so I started swimming, and it chilled me out completely. And even when my back was cooled out I was swimming, so I'm into it. I do it everyday now, whenever I can.
AAJ: What about clinics, what do you like to impart to students?
MS: Well, a lot of different things. Some just my experience and how I learned to get together whatever I got together: what I work on and how long it took. Because none of this stuff came easy for me. Whatever I got together did not come easy for me. I don't even know what I got together. Whatever it is, it didn't come easy (laughs). And I had to work hard at it but I got into it and I love the music, so I could get lost into it, and learning stuff, even at a slow pace and just stay with it.
AAJ: You don't make it sound difficult, that's for sure.
MS: Well, I try. For a while it was like pulling teeth but I kind of liken it to learning a language. You can't speak a language in three days - you know what I'm saying ' you've got to learn a word at a time. It's embarrassing at first, you mispronounce the words, you can't put them together, past tense, present tense is always fucked up; all that shit. And then you get some glimpse of fluency with the language and then it gradually becomes more and more fluent, if you stay with it. It's the same thing with this language. It's the same awkward feeling, the same learning curve, whatever that is; the same time it takes, but it's beautiful at the end of the day. You get a language that you can speak. Now you can always take a language to whatever degree - it's infinite ' how many ways you can put words together or learn more information in any language, so the sky's the limit. But when you get a certain fluency with the language then it gets to be fun and you can do whatever everybody wants to do: play their heart out. Music is a language and it's really a language of the heart. But of course you have to learn some fluency. At first its self conscious, I think. I had to wait and keep plugging away and sounding like shit for a long time, making a whole bunch of mistakes.
AAJ: Yeah, I don't know when that was, man. I've been listening to you for like 20 something years.
MS: (laughs). When I was first starting, man, that was definitely happening, for a while, and I just kept going. It was hard for me to learn all these chords. I was more of a blues/rock (player). I had other influences in me - but that was mainly where I was coming from. And learning stuff from CD's just by ear ' in those days it was records - and then I was listening to a couple of jazz records and then I tried to play along with those by ear and got lost immediately, so that's when I started studying more. And it took a minute, to say the least.