Establishing a pedigree profile through his work in the ‘70s and early ‘80s with Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham and particularly Miles Davis, Mike Stern has proved a giant innovator in his field, earning the unalloyed praise of peers and fans alike. As Guitar World once said: “One of the true guitar greats of his generation.”
Born in 1953, Mike Stern started playing guitar when he was 12, spurred on by the blues and rock influences of B B King, Clapton and Hendrix. Attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music in the early ‘70s, he steered towards jazz, and cites Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall as big influences on his distinctive playing style.
In 1976, on a recommendation from Pat Metheny, with whom he had studied at Berkeley, Stern joined Blood, Sweat & Tears for two years, recording two albums with the band. After a similar period with Billy Cobham’s band, he landed the gig with Miles Davis in 1981, appearing on three albums including Davis’s comeback debut live release, We Want Miles.
By now a much sought-after player, Mike rejoined Davis in ’85 after a period touring with Jaco Pastorius’ Word Of Mouth band, then teamed up with soprano sax maestro David Sanborn and, later, Steps Ahead featuring vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and saxophonist Michael Brecker. 1986 also saw Stern’s much acclaimed Atlantic Records album debut, Upside Downside, in the esteemed company of colleagues like Sanborn, Pastorius and drummer Dave Weckl.
Over the next few years, Mike was a member of Michael Brecker’s quintet, he formed a touring group with Bob Berg that included drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Lincoln Goines, and joined a reunited Brecker Brothers Band in 1992, a group that enjoyed considerable popularity over the next couple of years. Stern’s success with his own albums meanwhile was burgeoning, his 1993 release, Standards (And Other Songs) prompting Guitar Player readers to vote him Best Jazz Guitarist of the Year, and two subsequent records - Is What It Is and Between The Lines - both being nominated for Grammy awards.
His most recent releases - Play in 1999 and Voices in 2001 - are widely regarded as among his strongest work, the former seeing a ‘six-string summit’ with fellow guitar greats John Scofield and Bill Frisell, the latter with Mike at his most lyrical and melodic, using unusual ‘wordless’ vocals and the material interwoven with world-music influences.