Mike Stern

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Mike Stern (originally Sedgwick) born January 1953, is best known for his work with Miles Davis and as a member of Jaco Pastorius World of Mouth band. He also appeared in Blood, Sweat & Tears as well in Michael Brecker's band. He has also made several solo albums, been voted best jazz guitarist in Guitar Player Magazine and have several Grammy nominees. Mike is married to Guitarist/Singer Leni Stern.

Education & early career

In the early 70's Mike attended Berkley College of Music, where he had Mick Goodrich and Pat Metheny as mentors. The latter recommended him for Blood, Sweat & Tears when they were searchin for a new guitar player. Mike's early influences included Jimi Hendrix, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery and other jazz/rock/blues players around. During the years with BST he met Jaco Pastorius who also was a good friend of Pat Metheny and the two of them became friends. It's reported that Jaco often told Mike: "Man, you must get some flash in Your playing". This maybe encouraged Mike to practice and reach the brilliant technique and timing, which is one of his trademarks style wise.

Living in New York

Mike moved to N.Y city after his years at Berkeley, and was jamming on the local clubs, often with Jaco, drummer Adam Nussbaum and Saxophone-player Steve Slagle. (which is confirmed by a bootleg by the name "Live in Old York") During the first years in N.Y he played with BST and also recorded two albums as well as touring with the band. After he left BST, he played with Billy Cobhams band for about 1-1 1/2 year before Miles Davis asked him to join his band. Mike has been living right over 55 Bar in New York, and because of that often been visiting jamming/playing with the musicians around.

Taking the audience with storm

Mike's real big break in the world of music came when Miles Davis was releasing his first album in 8 years ("Man with the Horn"), probably due to Miles heavy drug abuse. It has been rumoured since Jimi Hendrix died, that Miles was supposed to make an album with Jimi, but they never made that to happen. Miles was a big fan of the electric guitar and it's no surprise that Mike's playing style was favoured, which is a blend between be-bop, blues and a distorted sound with a lot of energy.

Bill Evans (saxophone player), who was already working with Miles, was a friend of Mike and he took Miles down to a club where Mike was performing with Billy Cobham. Miles asked Mike to show up on a session next day, and a week later he was called by Miles for the session of "Fat Time". After the first, that was recorded live in the studio, Mike wasn't satisfied and asked for another take - Miles replied: "Fat Time, when you're at a party, you gotta know when to leave."

One song from "Man with the Horn" stands clearly out: "Fat Time", which also was Miles nickname of Mike. "Time" was coming from Miles respect for Mike's timing and "Fat" was actually a friendly poke to Mike, who had a little overweight at that time. Eventually Miles changed it to just "Time" when Mike returned to the band later in the eighties, when he cleaned up from his abuse.

Mike stayed with Miles for 3 years, recorded three albums and made numerous live performances, but due to his drug abuse and alcohol problems, he was asked to leave by Miles. He joined Jaco Pastorius World of Mouth band, Jaco, who also was a lot into drugs by that time, took Mike on a tour to Japan which is also documented on a live album.

Going solo

After he left Jaco Pastorius band in 1985 he cleaned up his personal life and joined Miles band again, replacing John Scofield who was leaving for a solo career. By this time he also released his first official solo album "Upside/Downside" on Atlantic in 1996. (an album "Neesh" was recorded for a minor Japanese label a year earlier) After the tour with Miles, Mike was a permanent member of Michael Brecker's band for two years and is also featured on Michael Breckers solo release "Don't try this at home", which is a landmark in the world of modern jazz.

In the following years Mike had his own band, touring world-wide and they released another three albums which best can be categorized as "fusion" -albums. Members of his band was bass-player Lincoln Goines, drummer Dennis Chambers and saxophone-player Bob Berg. (who also played with Miles) He was also on tour with David Sanborn and played with Michael Brecker in the band Steps Ahead.

Back to basics & Return of the Dinosaurs

In 1992 he teamed up with Randy & Mike Brecker to another line-up of the legendary Brecker Brothers band. Mike released "Standards (and other songs)", which presented him to the broad jazz-audience with a more acoustic/traditional jazz approach. The release got him voted as Best Jazz Guitarist in the Guitar Player Magazine. The following releases was more electric but got him grammy-nominated twice in a couple of Years. He returned to the acoustic genre with the release of "Give and Take", which also featured John Patitucci on bass and the legendary drummer Jack de Johnette as well as Don Alias, Michael Brecker and David Sanborn. This was Mike's most acoustic release so far and he played most of the tracks without any distorsion at all.

In the 90's some guitar collaborations has gained great success, Jim Hall made a record together with different guitar players, John Scofield/Pat Metheny also did one. That may have encouraged Mike to do his last release of the century with his friends/fellow guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield. The album is entitled "Play" and is filled with energy and state-of-the-art guitar playing. Since his time with Miles, he had gained internation fame, and was invited to record as guest soloist on numerous records. (see Discography)

Turning directions

Like many other artists Mike must have felt that a new Millenium is a big turn, and alike those artist, Mike's music was also reformed. In 2001 the album "Voices" was released. Introduced was Richard Bona on bass/vocals - who added a vocal element (used as an instrument) to Mike's music. Richard Bona was one of the hottest players around (and still is), he was first heard on Mike's friend Pat Metheny's records but have since then became a top session/recording musician. Along with Bona was Elizabeth Kontomanou, Arto Tuncboyaciyan, and Philip Hamilton appearing on vocals. Mike got a grammy nominee for this album as well.

Mike followed up the success with "Voices" with another vocal-based album entitled "These Times" whick also featured banjo player Bela Fleck before returning to core fusion with the 2006 release of "Who let the cats out?". Teamed were all-star musicians Roy Hargrove, Dave Weckl, Anthony Jackson, Victor Wooten among others. This success amongst the critics renders Mike's fourth grammy nominee.

During most of 2008 and 2009 Mike have been touring with the fusion pioneers Yellowjackets and his own band in Europe and Asia. For the first time in 15 years, Yellowjackets decided to use a guitar player on their album. He's featured on most of the songs on the album as well as contributed with two own compositions. This album was nominated for "Best Contemporary Jazz Album" in 2008.

Mike's latest project "Big Neighbourhood" features recent & upcoming stars like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, Randy Brecker, Medeski Martin & Wood, Cindy Blackman among others. The goal according to Mike was to record the album as "live" as possible, but since some of the musicians live on the westcoast the "neighbourhood" became quite big.


Mike is playing with an unmistakeable alternate picking style and often plays long lines going outside the regular harmony in the forms of chromatic patterns and Coltrane chord substitutions. Many of the tonal approach is actually be-bop played with energy and he uses bends and vibratos in a blues approach to color his style. He often uses heavy distorsion, especially when playing fusion, but in the case of jazz tunes he has a clean, crispy sound. The most noticeable about his style is his sense of timing and a blending picking technique, rather than rhytmic variations. He's playing is very aggresive in the genre, and put him immidiately in the spotlight during his years with Miles.


Mike plays an Aronson guitar build my a friend in Boston as well as a signature model made by Yamaha. His original Tele 50's was stolen in an armed robbery, and hasn't been found after that. Amplifiers consists of an old Yamaha and a Pierce GR-1 with a Hartke cabinet and JBL 10 inch speakers.

He uses Fender nicklewound guitar strings going from .011 to .038. His effects consists of a Yamaha SPX-90, two Boss delays, a Boss DS1 and a Boss Octavider.

Here is Mike talking bout his gear:

Video sound clips

The classic song "Fat Time" from "Man with the Horn" (guit.solo appr. 5.10)

Playing a simple blues....

With Richard Bona

With the Yellowjackets:

Complete Discography

As a leader:

Neesh (1985)
Upside Downside (1986)
Time in Place (1988)
Jigsaw (1989)
Odds or Evens (1991)
Standards and Other Songs (1993)
Is What It Is (1994)
Between the Lines (1996)
Give and Take (1997)
Play (1999)
Voices (2001)
These Times (2004)
Who Let the Cats Out? (2006)
Big Neighborhood (2009)

As a sideman/soloist:

Blood, Sweat & Tears: Brand New Day (1976)
Blood, Sweat & Tears: In Concert (1976)
Blood, Sweat & Tears: More Than Ever (1976)

Billy Cobham: Stratus (1981)
Miles Davis: The Man with The Horn (1981)
Miles Davis: We Want Miles (1981)
Miles Davis: Miles! Miles! Miles! Live in Japan '81 (1981)
Michal Urbaniak: Michal Urbaniak (1981)

Miles Davis: Spring (1982, bootleg)
MILES DAVIS: FORUM, N.Y. 12/31/'82 - NEW YEAR'S EVE (1982)
Michael Mantler: Something There (1982)

MILES DAVIS: Star People (1983)
Steve Slagle,Harvie Swartz,Victor Lewis,Steve Smith: High Standards (1983)

Jaco Pastorius: Live in New York City - Volume 5: Raça (1984)

Harvie Swartz: In A Different Light(1985)
Harvie Swartz: Urban Earth (1985)

Steps Ahead - live in Tokyo (1986)
Michael Brecker - Don't Try This at Home (1986)
Shunzo O'No: Manhattan Blue (1986)
Steve Smith: Global Beat (1986)
Lew Soloff: Yesterdays (1986)
Harvie Swartz: Smart Moves (1986)

Bob Berg: Back Roads, Short Stories (1987)
Jukkis Uotila: Avenida (1987)
Roland Vazquez: The Tides of Time (1987)

Bob Berg: Cycles (1988)

Bob Berg: Games (1989, bootleg)
Charles Blenzig: Charles Blenzig (1989)
The Michael Brecker Band - live (1989, bootleg)
Eddie Palmieri: Sueno (1989)

Bob Berg: In The Shadows (1990)
Jim Beard: Chroma - Music On The Edge (1990)
Eric Le Lann: New York (1990?)
Pete Levin: Party In The Basement (1990)
Andrea Marcelli: Silent Will (1990)
Andrea Marchesini: Back To Europe (1990)
Jukkis Uotila: Jukkis Uotila Band Live (1990, bootleg)
Kimo Williams: War Stories (1990)

Marc Beacco: The Crocodile Smile (1991)
Motohiko Hino: It's There; Sailing Stone (1991)
Dieter Ilg: Summerhill (1991)
Motohiko Hino´: It's There (1991)
Motohiko Hino´: Sailing Stone (1991)

The Brecker Brothers - Return of the Brecker Brothers (1992)
Joe Amoruso: Rosa del Mare di Mezzo (1992)
Dave Larue: Hub City Kid (1992)
Bunny Brunel: Dedication (1992)
Bunny Brunel: For You To Play (1992)
Blood, Sweat & Tears: Live and Improvised (1992 or 1993)
Ernesto Vitolo: Piano & Bit (1992)

Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette & others: Echoes of a Note - a tribute to Louis "Pops" Armstrong (1993)
Chris Hunter: Say What You Mean (1993)

Les Arbuckle: Bush Crew (1994)
The Brecker Brothers Live (1994, bootleg)
Sninichi Kato & B-hot Creations - Something Close To Love (1994)
Lew Soloff, Lenny White,Peter Linhart Group: Blue Nights (1994)

Jim Hall: Dialogues (1995)
Didier Lockwood: New York Rendezvous (1995)

Arturo Sandoval: Swingin' (1996)

David Alan Gross: The Final Answer to Everything (1997) Jens Johansson: Fission (1997)
Alex Riel: Unriel (1997)
Lew Soloff, Lenny White,Peter Linhart Group: Nailin' (1997)
Pat Martino: All Sides Now (1997)
Bob Berg: Another Standard (1997)

Doug Robinson: plays well with others (1998)
Spajazzy: Spajazzy (1998)

David Clayton-Thomas - Bloodlines (1999)
Bunny Brunel: L.A. Zoo (1999)

Alex Riel: RielLatin (2000)

Thomas Barth: Seven Worlds (2001)
George Mraz,Billy Hart,Jeff Berlin: In Harmony's Way (2001)

Bireli Lagrene, Frank Gambale,Billy Cobham,Dan Moretti: Point of Entry (2006)

David Liebman: Back On The Corner (2007)

The Yellowjackets: Lifecycle (2008)


Grey Carola: Age Of Illusions (JL 1139-2)
Vinne Catro: New York City Soundscape
Michael Cunningham And Four Corners: Michael Cunningham And Four Corners
Bob Belden: Manhattan Rhythm Club Prince Jazz (Japanese release)
Michael Gerber: This Is Michael Gerber (big world BW2007)
Gil Goldstein, Danny Gottlieb,Lincoln Goines Funkifying the Cláve: Afro-Cuban Grooves for Bass and Drums by Lincoln Goines and Robby Ameen
Tom Harrell: The Art of Rhythm 23 musicians, Mike plays on two cuts (Exit In, Samba do Amor)

Related GMC Lessons

Jazz Rock Fusion Solo in A Minor
The Minor Add 6th Pentatonic Scale

See also

Official Homepage