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Nils Winther at SteepleChase has been behind me since my first recording in 1990. They are not a major label, but he has allowed me to document my music for the last 10 years.
With a genuine feeling for the history of not only the jazz guitar, but of the blues and rock tradition too, guitarist Dave Stryker is a distinctive and resourceful musician who has made the most from such experiences as working with organist Jack McDuff and the late saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Furthermore, over the course of the dozen albums he has lead for the Danish SteepleChase label he has worked in contexts from big bands to organ trios, not to mention the electric ensemble that distinguishes his latest and most accomplished work, Shades of Miles. In this brief chat, Stryker discusses the new album while also filling in some of the details about his influences and development as an artist.
All About Jazz: Being a native of Nebraska, how much jazz and blues music was available to you while you were growing up?
Dave Stryker: Not much. My dad had Ellington's Nutcracker Suite LP, which I still love. I started out into rock and the Beatles. I got into blues second hand. My first LP was Disraeli Gears by Cream... Clapton was playing some Albert King on that. When I was in high school I went to the record store and asked for some jazz and left with Coltrane's My Favorite Things and George Benson's Beyond the Blue Horizon...needless to say that was a real revelation!
AAJ: What made you pick up the guitar?
DS: I guess I wanted to be cool like the Beatles.
AAJ: Tell us about your development and training as a guitarist.
DS: I started playing guitar when I was 10 and was playing in a little band at 12. I played all through high school and then started getting into jazz and practicing along with Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, George Benson and Grant Green. At the same time I was playing almost every night in a local band in Omaha. We played standards and Top 40. I was also writing and jamming with friends, learning jazz. About this time (1975), I went to a Jamey Aebersold camp and was exposed to some real jazz (Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw). A little later, I met a great guitarist from Omaha named Billy Rogers and got to study with him.
AAJ: How long have you lived in New York?
DS: I moved to LA from Omaha in 1978 and then to New York. I've lived here since 1980.
AAJ: Tell us about some of the valuable things you learned from gigging with Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine.
DS: I had met Jack at Jimmy Smith's Supper Club in LA. He told me to call him when I came to NY. I sat in up in Harlem and he called me a couple years later. I played with him from '84-'85. It was a great experience. All my favorite guitarists had played with him so it was a real validation as well as a kick in the ass. He wasn't afraid to tell you what he thought. A lot of guitarists lasted 2 weeks, but we got along and I was ready for the gig. You had to swing and play with feeling and the blues or you would sound sad after Jack played. It was a lot of dues, but an invaluable experience that is sadly lacking these days.
I met Turrentine at Dude's Lounge in Harlem where McDuff used to play. After I left McDuff in '84, Stanley's manager called me and I started playing with him from '86-'96. He was always one of my favorites (I grew up with all those CTI records) so it was a great thrill to get the gig. His time, feeling and soulfulness were deep. It was another situation where you were forced to rise to the occasion because he always played great. I played the melodies with him and learned his phrasing. We had a nice hook-up. I had started playing again with Stanley in the last couple years and it is a great loss that he left us. There are not many of the greats left unfortunately.
AAJ: You have developed a sizable and eclectic catalog of music for SteepleChase. Tell us about your relationship with the label. Do you think you'd be more widely known if you were recording on a major American label?
DS: Nils Winther at SteepleChase has been behind me since my first recording in 1990. They are not a major label, but he has allowed me to document my music for the last 10 years and has supported whatever I wanted to do. Most of the majors drop you after 2 records because you're not selling enough. Nils has been in business (with quite a catalog) for 30 years, so he knows what he's doing. You have to get out and do the work for yourself in this business anyway, no matter who you're with.
AAJ: Are you still doing work in your quartet with Steve Slagle?
DS: Steve and I have been playing together for 15 years. My quartet with Steve is my main focus musically. He is involved in all my projects and visa-versa. It is great to have a musical partner that you can bounce ideas off of. It makes the music stronger and more varied. Plus, Slagle is one of the best saxophonists out there. I'm on his new Omnitone release New New York with Cameron Brown, Gene Jackson, Joe Lovano and Joe Locke.
AAJ: Tell us about the newly released Shades of Miles.
DS: This is a project I've always wanted to do. When I first started listening to jazz I had an 8-track in my van with Bitches Brew and Kind of Blue on the same tape! It all sounded great to me. I've always loved that period of Miles ('69-'74) and the interaction and different textures. I wrote some themes that were inspired by Miles and we went into the studio and played. It was one of those times when I think we captured some magic. I was lucky to get some of my friends (and some of the best players in NY) like Brian Lynch, Steve Slagle, Billy Drewes, Billy Hart, Manolo Badrena, Larry Goldings, Marc Copland, and Terry Burns. I think it's something different and fresh.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.