Home » Jazz News » John Stein: 'Lifeline'

Recording News

John Stein: 'Lifeline'


Sign in to view read count
It's rare when a two-album set is released celebrating the career of a living jazz artist. It's even more rare that the double album should now be No. 4 on JazzWeek's jazz album chart. That's exactly what has happened with John Stein's Lifeline (Whaling City Sound). Both accomplishments are a testament to John's straight-up swing and eclecticism over the years and his passion for for tasty jazz chords.

Released in June, Lifeline features 26 tracks spanning 15 albums recorded over 23 years, 13 of which were issued by Whaling City Sound. John began playing the guitar at age 7 and jazz at age 13. Born in Kansas City, Mo., John started out in the late 1960s as a rocker. But at age 30, he attended the Berklee College of Music and taught at the esteemed Boston music school after he graduated. While in Boston, John hopped over to Cambridge and completed a masters degree in education from Harvard and somehow found time to learn to play the upright bass.

John has played with artists such as Bill Pierce, John LaPorta, David “Fathead" Newman, Larry Goldings, Frank Herzberg fand Bob Freedman and he has gigged with Fathead, Lou Donaldson, Lonnie Smith, Idris Muhammad and many others. Deeply influenced by the album Getz/Gilberto, John has a passion for Brazilian rhythms, which pepper Lifeline. He credits Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall as major inspirations.

What's special about John's playing is his soulful attack on standards ranging from Moonlight in Vermont and Nica's Dream to On Green Dolphin Street and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. The same is true from the set's originals, including Up and At 'Em, Brazilian Hug and Four Corners. 

John's new double album is a lifeline—to give him time to recuperate. Like Pat Martino, Mike Stern and other guitar greats who suffered major health setbacks and had to rebuild their chops, John was up against the wall recently. As he writes in Lifeline's album notes:

Nearly a year ago, I began having strange symptoms with my eyesight. Unfortunately, those were initially misdiagnosed. By the time additional physical issues developed and increased suddenly, I found myself in a full medical crisis. I had somehow contracted a rare autoimmune disease, Myasthenia Gravis, which affects the nervous system and doesn’t allow various muscles to work properly; it corrupts the connection between the nerves and the muscles. My own body’s immune system, purposed to protect me from outside dangers, was attacking itself. My illness made it impossible to breathe on my own. I couldn’t walk and my eyesight was much-diminished by double vision. My throat muscles were deeply affected by the disease. I was not able to swallow, so I could not eat or drink normally and my speech was severely limited.

In an earlier era, I would have perished. Due to modern medical knowledge, technical advancements, treatments, and excellent care, I am still here and grateful to be alive. It has been a long haul: two months living in a hospital, two of those weeks on a ventilator in the ICU, and much rehab ahead. I lost forty pounds while lying on a hospital bed though I was not overweight prior. Now I have to regain my strength and I have to learn to breathe, swallow, and speak again, after being ventilated. I am finally home from the hospital and doing a variety of therapies. Playing guitar again is one of them. I was thrilled to see and touch my precious guitars, but instantly discovered I needed to build my strength and coordination back. I have found playing to be a surprising and fascinating experience.

We'd like wish John a steady and speedy recovery, and we're grateful that Whaling City Sound released this double album to give John time to bounce back and to allow us to re-listen to John's past output. For those unfamiliar with John's playing, you now have a chance to discover a gorgeous guitarist.

JazzWax clips: Here's Brazilian Hug...

And here's On Green Dolphin Street...

Continue Reading...

This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved.

Post a comment


Jazz News


Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.