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Mike Stern: Half Crazy

Jim Worsley By

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SoCal Jazz is back from safari to the auspicious Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. A follow-up with guitarist Mike Stern was the primary itinerary for this trip. Trip is the name of Stern's new record, just in case you missed the play on words. Unfortunately, Stern had a trip of another kind in 2016. How it happened, the devastating injuries sustained, how it has impacted his playing and more were detailed in Mike Stern: What A Trip, from earlier this year.

This subsequent interview encapsulates much more than a follow-up on his injuries and treatments. Stern also talks about his musical process, his time with Miles Davis, the making of Trip, New York's 55 Bar and opened up with regards to more personal matters.

The candor with which he spoke about his battles with drug and alcohol addictions and rehab made it a very powerful conversation. It was a quite poignant conversation as well, as he glowingly shared his feelings about the love of his life, Leni Stern. His wife of nearly 38 years is also an accomplished guitarist. Moreover, she is a stylish vocalist with superb phrasing.

All About Jazz: How are you? What is the current state of your injuries?

Mike Stern: In some ways it's more of a challenge since it's been going on for so long. It's definitely getting better, it's slowly getting better. In some ways better in that I'm used to dealing with it. I'm getting a lot of good feedback from people that I really trust that have said they are hearing no difference. That the music really comes out and they're hearing no problem. But I am certainly feeling it! It's painful. The pain management I gotta do and all that shit. Which is cool you know. Life goes on. It's an extra effort, to say the least. But I am grateful to play. It's a healing process. And people say "yeah, yeah, right it's a healing process." But it really is. I'm still using the wig glue to hold the pick. And a little scotch tape around the pick to make it fatter and give me something to grab on to.

AAJ: I know you have had some procedures to repair damage. Is there still more of that to come?

MS: The next thing is that in the beginning of January they are going to take this finger, my index finger, and move it up a little. He tightened it up before with the tendons, which helped a lot. The guy is awesome. He has done some stuff for Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen and other cats like that. A lot of people with hand and arm issues go to him. He's a good cat. Some stuff comes back.

Unfortunately, it's just not enough over time. The injury was all the way up here [pointing to just below his shoulder on his right arm] to this bone, the humerus bone. It must have broken at the top of the humerus bone. It's like a quarterback's injury, when they hold the ball like this [doing his best impression of Eli Manning taking a snap]. It's the shock that is absorbed by the elbow or maybe the forearm. It sucks. I don't like even thinking about it. The doctor has more stuff down the road to straighten my fingers out. But yeah it's hard...hard to even think about.

AAJ: Let's change gears then. Your latest record, Trip, is just outstanding. I have listened to it many times. If you would, talk about what makes this record special.

MS: For me it's just a combination of people. That's the way I've been getting inspired. Really extra-inspired by getting people on the record that I work with. A bunch of different cats. Because generally over the course of going out and letting people know I have a new record out it's great to be able to say that I'm playing with Randy Brecker, Dave Weckl, Tom Kennedy, Victor Wooten, Bob Franceschini, and so many more. I did a gig shortly after my accident with Chick Corea and Wallace Roney. I've known Wallace for years so I said I just got to get him on this record. I did a thing with Lenny White last summer, who is also on this record. So I get all these guys and I'm so blessed that they want are interested in doing something with me. It's an honor to play with cats like these. They kick my ass and really inspire me. And then the finger doesn't hurt so much [laughs], I'm not even thinking about it.

AAJ: So, what is the process for a record like this?

MS: I don't usually like to have the drummer do something over here and like that. It's live. Sometimes you can't do it, but 99% of the time it's live. Even when I have to do that I still record it live with someone else and then replace it so that it still has that live feel. You still want the feel. Then you can use the studio for what you need. You can fix something or add an overdub, because you may as well use it. I do like the ideas that happen while you are recording and sometimes just talking about it when you're running it down. You may get a last minute idea of putting the drums here instead of there or whatever. Those kind of things happen when everyone is at the same gig at the same time. Then there is the spontaneity, more so in the solo parts than in the arranged parts. I try to leave quite a bit of room for everybody and let the cats do their thing. Of course there are written out bass lines that need to be there for the melody and stuff like that.

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