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Take Five With Michael Stephans


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Meet Michael Stephans: Jazz drummer/poet/writer/teacher Michael Stephans has played with dozens of jazz luminaries. Currently performing in groups with Dave Liebman, Bennie Maupin, and Bob Brookmeyer, Michael has recently come home to the East Coast, after a thirty-year hiatus in Los Angeles as a studio and performing musician and teacher. His new CD, OM/ShalOM, was released in late February 2007, and he has played recently at the Blue Note and The Jazz Standard in New York City.

Instrument(s): Drums.

Teachers and/or influences? My two teachers were (and still are) also significant influences: Joe Chambers and Bob Brookmeyer - great teachers both. Influences include everyone who ever played music with transcendent passion and commitment. Topping that list are Trane, Eric Dolphy, Miles, Wayne Shorter, Elvin Jones, Papa Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams and so on.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... ...at the tender age of around five, I first heard Buddy Rich play "Traffic Jam" on an Artie Shaw record. That did it!

Your sound and approach to music: As though I were a painter: a master colorist like Monet, an audacious humorist like Dali, a visual rhythmist like Vaserely and, finally, a controller of chaos like Picasso in "Guernica."

...and of course, living fully in the moment.

Your teaching approach: Celebrate each student's strengths; strengthen each's weaknesses; inspire each student to become the best s/he can be.

Your dream band: I've been blessed enough to have actually played in a number of my dream bands; however, I'd love to play with pianists Marc Copland, Uri Caine and Paul Bley; saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Chris Speed; trumpeters Dave Douglas and Cuong Vu; and bassist Drew Gress - et al.

Anecdote from the road: Any tour or gig with Brookmeyer has provided too many anecdotes to put in this small space. Stay tuned for a book.

Favorite venue: The Blue Note in New York City (thanks to Rich Okon, jazz maven and club manager), the nice folks at the Jazz Standard (also NYC), and Charlie and Jo at Charlie O's in Los Angeles - all great places to play.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? The Usual: Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme and any other Trane Other incredible gems: Stan Getz/Bob Brookmeyer, Fall 1961 (at the top of their form); Pat Martino, We'll be Together Again (great and intimate ballad playing); Brookmeyer, Gloomy Sunday and other Bright Moments (a masterful big band recording by New York's finest); and too many others to mention...

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Heart and mind...the best I can give.

Did you know... I collect first-edition modern literature and mystery books.

CDs you are listening to now: Dave Liebman/Marc Copland, Lunar (Hatology); Marc Copland, Some Love Songs (Pirouet); John Coltrane, Meditations (Impulse!); Nels Cline, New Monastery (Cryptogramophone); Myra Melford/Be Bread, The Image of Your Body (Cryptogramophone).

Desert Island picks: Those listed above plus the Bartok String Quartets played by the Emerson String Quartet.

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Thank God for Indie jazz labels.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? All About Jazz / the Internet / the commitment to our music as evidenced by people like Dave Douglas and others with courage and vision to bring the music out into the universe.

What is in the near future? A pending duo project with Dave Liebman.

A European tour with the Bennie Maupin Ensemble.

A trio project with Bob Brookmeyer.

By Day: College professor.

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