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The Mike Stern Interview is Here!

A giant of modern jazz shares a wealth of improvisational inspiration

By December 13, 2017News

The Cracking the Code Mike Stern interview is here! In this intimate chat, the genial jazz master shares a wealth of improvisational insights, delivered in an extemporaneous fashion as effortless his playing.

Mike is a great interview: friendly, discursive, and wholly unguarded about his process as a technician and musician. If you’ve ever wondered how an expansive and usable improvisational vocabulary is built, this conversation is a valuable window into how that job is accomplished. From the opening minutes, Mike’s abundant and continued curiosity in seeking out uncharted areas of his well-worn Yamaha Pacifica fretboard quickly becomes apparent.

Mike outlines technique after technique for pulling new ideas out of familiar scales and shapes. This includes using patterns and sequences thought-provoking brainteaser-style experiments, adapting lines from other instruments, and more. He fearlessly demonstrates a number of “work in progress” phrases he’s still figuring out how to incorporate — on the spot in the talk, flubs and all.

In the 65 musical examples that accompany the interview, we’ve transcribed almost all of Mike’s brain-busting and finger-twisting harmonic explorations. But the idea is not that you’ll learn these, wholesale, as stock phrases. Instead, these are the seeds of future music, bits and pieces of which may hopefully emerge in surprising ways in your playing later on.

It’s this procedural aspect of what Mike shares that is particularly exciting. Thinking beyond the pentatonic box is hard work, for sure, but the term “practice” doesn’t really capture it. It’s really vocabulary building. And what Mike shows us here is that it’s not just the desire to grow as a musician that matters. It’s that, in order to actually experience that growth, you need to fight back against complacency with specific, hands-on methods to generate originality. It’s a stealthily subversive and powerful message, delivered in signature affable style by one of the nicest cats around.

The complete Mike Stern package includes the one-hour interview, 65 slow-motion examples with tablature, and six chapters (20+ minutes) of analysis chapters on Mike’s technique.

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We hope you enjoy the interview! If you have questions or comments, you can head to our forum or shoot us an email at any time.

Troy Grady

About Troy Grady

Top Comments

  1. I attended one of his clinics in 2003, he told to an amazed audience that he was still taking lessons from Charlie Banacos-and that was something he had often mentioned in older interviews as well. And also repeated a few times the zen like quote…“the more I know, the less I know”, referring to the vastness of the whole thing.
    I’ve said elsewhere that the interview is great, and now with clips added is even greater. Good job, guys!

  2. Lots of great material in the Stern file. To add even more, you can play with where the phrases begin and end, try swing feel, and change 16ths to 8ths. For example, I took the “Brecker Lick tk2” phrase and manipulated it a bit. The fundamental pulse of bebop is the 8th note, so I switched the 16ths to swing 8ths and jacked the tempo up to 260. I also displaced the phrase to show different feels. Phrases can swing harder if you start them on upbeats. I hope it is OK to post this here. Let me know if it is against the rules.

    Of course, these techniques can be applied to the entire CTC catalog. Enjoy.

  3. [cough] Frank Gambale [cough]

  4. Troy says:

    The sequenced lines Mike plays in this interview are some of the most non-traditional things anyone has played that we’ve interviewed. And he’s working some of them out on the spot as an exercise. So it only makes sense that you will see mistakes. I wouldn’t take any of this as a comment on Mike’s technique, only his unfamiliarity with these ideas that he’s still working out.

    Mike is in that small category of players who can actually alternate pick pretty much any line they are likely to write, because his technique has a solution for every kind of alternate-picked string change you can make, i.e. all four of them.

  5. They met up several years ago!

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