Guitar virtuoso Stern thrilled to jam with BGSU jazz bands

Mike Stern will perform
Tuesday at BGSU. (Photo by Sandrine Lee/provided)

For jazz guitar virtuoso Mike Stern, his life in music started when he was young and walking around his
Boston home singing…. and yelling.
His mother, a classical pianist, knew then that her son had a connection to music, and started him on a
path that’s intersected with some of the greatest musicians in jazz, including Miles Davis and taken him
around the world again and again.
That path, Stern said Thursday in a telephone interview, is never ending. He’s still in awe of "the
enormity of music."
"It gets more and more amazing," he said. "The more music you know, the less you know. The
universe of music expands the more you learn."
Stern, inspired by one of his own teachers in Boston, is intent on passing that along,. So he tries to
fit in visits to colleges as his busy touring schedule allows.
Stern will stop by Bowling Green State University Tuesday to work with students and perform with the Jazz
Lab Band I at 8 p.m. in Kobacker Hall.
While in Boston attending the Berklee College of Music, he studied with Charlie Banacos, a pianist and
composer, and most of all, a teacher. Though a "master" on his instrument and as a writer,
"he never played gigs out, all he did was teacher. He was so inspiring."
"I got infected with his enthusiasm," the guitarist said. Stern never graduated from Berklee,
instead on the recommendation of his Berklee guitar teacher Pat Metheny, he auditioned and got a job
with Blood, Sweat and Tears. That was in 1976. "Ultimately that was a good thing, I really got to
play." Five years later he was recruited to join the Davis band, and his niche in jazz history was
But even then, having moved to New York, he kept taken lessons by exchanging tapes through the mail with
And while as a working musician he knows the ever-changing difficulties of the business, he conveys
optimism to students. If they work at it, "you can find a way to make music forever."
Practice is essential, "to keep the flowers going you have to water them regularly."
But as music students who have already decided to "take music to another level," they already
have a gift. "Everything else is gravy."
Sure, some musicians, even great musicians such as trumpeter and composer Kenny Dorham and drummer Jimmy
Cobb have to take non-music jobs at times to tide them over. But they kept at their music.
Stern works with Cobb occasionally as a member of the Four Generations of Miles, an all star group
featuring former Davis sidemen.
Cobb is the oldest of the group, which now includes saxophonist Sonny Fortune and bassist Buster
Williams. At 85 Cobb is still swinging hard, Stern said. He looks and sounds young. Stern credits Cobb’s
clean lifestyle. "He kept his stuff together."
Stern admits earlier in his career "I was very much the other way. For years I was really a
maniac." He was so gone he had electric bass legend Jaco Pastorius, who suffered from severe mental
illness, and Davis, who had his own health and substance abuse issues, watching after him.
Stern said he’s been sober for 30 years, and he lets students know "your music is definitely better
when you’re clean."
At BGSU he’ll be performing several numbers with the big band. The charts were written for him and the
Danish Radio Orchestra, and include his compositions "Chromozone," "Tipitina’s,"
"Tumble Home" and "KT."
He loves working with student bands and pulling the music together. "The sound itself is
Stern will also play with the faculty jazz combo. Stern has visited campus before and remembers working
with the faculty. "They were smoking."
Though Stern is most associated with jazz-rock and fusion, his taste are much broader. He continues to
study the great horn players, transcribing their solos, trying to get more vocal sound. "I’ve
always had that sound in my head."