Mike Stern has the sound of a rock guitarist and the chops and harmonic concepts of a bebopper

In the early '80s, after five years of musical silence, Miles Davis made a comeback. One stop on the tour was the Paramount Theater in Austin, where, in typical fashion, he barely acknowledged the adoring crowd. He spent most of the evening with his back to the audience, playing trumpet only sporadically, preferring to direct the interplay between band members from behind a small synthesizer on which he would occasionally stab two- and three-note chords. The music was a modern fusion of rock, blues, and jazz that ranged from raucous to spacey; the ensemble interaction between the players, which included Al Foster on drums, Bill Evans on sax, and John Scofield on guitar, was glorious to watch. Also glorious to watch was the other guitarist in the group, a young man with shaggy hair and monster chops named Mike Stern.

Stern had been attracting attention from the music world since his guitar teacher at Berklee College of Music, Pat Metheny, recommended him for a gig with Blood, Sweat, & Tears several years

Mike Stern
before. His influences ranged from B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix to John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, and Jim Hall; he managed to combine them all in a sound that was at once gritty and melodious. He had the sound of a rock guitarist and the chops and harmonic concepts of a bebopper. And when Miles went to check him out at the Bottom Line with drummer Billy Cobham's fusion band, he heard the raw, funky sound he was looking for.

Stern's work with artists like Miles, Jaco Pastorius, David Sanborn, and Michael Brecker helped define the sound of jazz in the '80s. Thousands of gigs and dozens of albums later, he is still synthesizing all those diverse influences to make great music. A skilled composer and an inspired ensemble player, his output as both a leader and a side

8 & 10pm
Thursday, April 24
$20 at the door
Carmens de la Calle Cafe
720 E. Mistletoe
(for reservations)
person remains consistent in quality and energy. His 1999 release on Atlantic Records, Play, with guest artists Scofield and Bill Frisell features strong tunes in a variety of styles that give his fellow guitarists plenty of room to stretch out. His 2001 release, Voices, features the world-music-influenced wordless vocals of Philip Hamilton, among others, as an adjunct to the guitar sound. His next album is due out in the fall, and as the major labels sink further into the quagmire of corporate conglutination, Stern has jumped ship to the German label ESC. There he joins labelmates Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, Victor Bailey, and Dennis Chambers, who have all recorded with him at one time or another.

Stern will be at Carmens on Thursday, April 24, for two shows. In the meantime, visit his Web site at for transcriptions of his solos and a guitar instructional video - just a reminder that behind every guitar god is a hell of a lot of hard work. •

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