of the top jazz guitarists in the U.S. today, John Stein released
his fabulous Hi-Fly CD in early 2011 and in 2012 he followed
up with another fine outing entitled Bing Bang Boom!.
Essentially the same quartet that recorded Hi-Fly, the
ten track Bing Bang Boom also features Johns solid quartetJohn
Stein (guitars), Jake Sherman (piano, keys), Zé Eduardo
Nazario Drums) and John Lockwood (acoustic bass). Theres
a good reason that, in addition to being a top recording guitarist,
John Stein also teaches music theory at the famous Berklee school
in Boston. Stein and his band just lives and breathes bebop guitar
jazz. In the past, John has cited jazz guitar legend Jim Hall as one
of his key influences and fans of Halls legendary jazz guitar
prowess will appreciate the vital group interplay on Bing Bang
Boom!. In addition to several new Stein originals, the Bing
Bang Boom! CD features fresh quartet covers of jazz legends such
as Charles Mingus, Billy Strayhorn, Victor Young and Cole Porter,
as evidenced by the CD closing cover of Porters Youd
Be So Nice To Come Home To. As with his other quartet recordings,
the sound of Bing Bang Boom! is modern yet theres some
vintage sounding musical signposts that gives the CD a comfortable,
relaxing vibe. When it comes to recording instrumental jazz guitar,
few musicians have it so clearly in the pocket as John Stein. www.JohnStein.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Your new CD Bing Bang Boom! was recorded just after you released
the Hi Fly album in 2011. How would you compare this new CD
with your quartet compared with Hi Fly? The Bing Bang Boom!
album sounds like a natural progression in a lot of ways. Is there
a story behind the making of the CD and also the ongoing interplay
between you and your group?
JOHN STEIN: I have enjoyed making a series of quartet recordings
with essentially the same musicians. Bing Bang Boom! is the
fourth in the series. We arent really a working band. My drummer
lives in Brazil, the pianist on the first two CDs in the series lives
in Japan, so we dont play together unless we can get together
for a special project. What seems to work is to first schedule a few
gigs, so when we go into the studio we have some playing-in time together
before we record. Since it takes quite a while to bring a CD project
to completion, by the time a CD is ready for release Im generally
ready to record again. The timing is usually good to play release
concerts for my previous recording, then go into the studio to record
a new one.
The natural progression you mention must be what happens when musicians
collaborate over time, get used to each other, and simply work together
to create something interesting. Im fortunate to play with brilliant
mwe3: How about the choice of covers on Bing Bang Boom!
this time around? Because some of the covers are such standards they
must have had a special meaning for you. The Rogers & Hart classic
Lover, Cole Porters Youd Be So Nice
To Come Home To and Delilah are standards. Can you
say something about why you chose these songs as covers on the Bing
Bang Boom! album this time? Although Delilah isnt
the same song most people think of when they hear the name Delilah,
(the Tom Jones cover). Also what other songs are you considering as
possible covers in the future?
STEIN: I play tunes that I love. I always work with music that
appeals to me. I am a democratic band leader and encourage my collaborators
to contribute ideas. Some of the standard tunes were suggested and
arranged by others. I guess my primary partner has been Zé
Eduardo Nazario, my Brazilian drummer. He has an encyclopedic knowledge
of Latin grooves and rhythms, and he is also a deep student of North
American jazz. What he likes to do is take standard tunes that are
normally performed in a typical way, and transform them by treating
them with various Brazilian grooves. Delilah and Lover
are great examples of that. Zé arranged Delilah
as a Brazilian Maracatu, and Lover alternates between
an Afoché rhythm and swing. It also seems to happen that the
conceptions we develop for tunes evolve once the others sink their
teeth into them. Youd Be So Nice To Come Home To
ended up a fast jazz waltz and thats not where it started.
mwe3: The medley of Duke Ellingtons Sound Of Love
written by Charles Mingus and the Billy Strayhorn composition Chelsea
Bridge is great too. Can you say something about that medley,
why you paired those tunes and the significance of those composers
and their influence on your musicianship? Most of todays younger
fusion / rock fans dont know much about Duke and Mingus and
Billy Strayhorn yet theyre responsible for some of the great
standards in jazz. What are your favorite albums by Duke and Mingus?
JOHN STEIN: The Mingus tune is a tribute from Mingus to Duke
Ellington, one of his musical idols. It seems to me that Mingus borrows
one of the strongest melodic and harmonic phrases from Billy Strayhorns
most famous composition Lush Life and uses it in his tribute
tune to Duke. Strayhorn and Ellington were joined at the hip, musically.
So Mingus quoting Strayhorn suggested a good link between the two
tunes. I dont think people get to hear the Mingus tune enough.
The melody notes are all color notes, not chord tones, so its
very sophisticated. But at the same time, it is highly melodic
easy to hear and remember. I love all the music I have heard by Duke,
Mingus, and Strayhorn.
Your Bing Bang Boom! original tracks are really great. Do you
prefer to record original music or classic covers and why? The title
track has a bit of humor in it. How did you come up with the title
track Bing Bang Boom! and why did you call the album Bing
Bang Boom! to begin with? Can you say something about that track
as well as the interplay between you and your band on the title track?
Seems like the musical ESP is improving between you and your group
and you can really feel that throughout the entire album.
JOHN STEIN: When I first began studying jazz music I was trying
to learn standard tunes. The theory I studied gave me a growing understanding
of how to analyze the great tunes: harmonic analysis, melodic analysis,
the relationship between melodies and harmony. Eventually, I realized
that I could not only understand what was going on in the tunes I
loved, but I also had the tools to compose my own music that is equally
sophisticated. So I began writing my own music to use on gigs and
on recordings. Many of the great musicians I admired composed music
in addition to playing standard repertoire, so it was a natural progression
for me to do the same.
Im very proud of my original compositions. I try to write music
that has natural phrasing, is both sophisticated and accessible, music
that I put in front of a good player and that person can do great
things with it almost without effort. I like to include original compositions
on my recordings. Its part of my attempt to create a unique
body of work.
Neal Weiss, the owner of Whaling City Sound, my record label, has
told me that his favorite thing is when jazz musicians play rock influenced
music. Years ago, I went through a phase playing in organ trios, and
Ive always loved the soul-jazz, boogaloo grooves. The tune Bing
Bang Boom! falls into that category. The title of the tune is
something I say, unconsciously, whenever I jump up to do something.
I didnt even know I was doing it. When we record, Zé
Eduardo Nazario comes up from Brazil and we hang out together, playing
and rehearsing the music for the new CD. We spend a lot of time together
and he noticed me using that little phrase, Bing Bang Boom!
It was an unconscious thing. I was totally unaware that I said it.
But Zé noticed it and suggested it for the title of my bluesy
tune. We thought it was catchy and it ended up becoming the album
terms of musical ESP, let me just say that what interests me in music
is the interaction between the participants. I love conversational
music, when everyone really listens and reacts to each other. I dont
enjoy music that simply provides pads over which a soloists shows
off chops. And Ive been very fortunate to collaborate with virtuosic
musicians who seem to enjoy the opportunity to play together in a
conversational manner. Their contributions have allowed me to produce
music Im very proud of.
mwe3: Another interesting new original is Belo Horizonte.
How did that track come about and can you say something about your
guitar techniques on that song and do you tend to alter your guitar
tones and sound on different tracks?
JOHN STEIN: The groove on that tune is typically Brazilian
so I titled it for one of the cities in Brazil Ive had occasion
to visit. Belo Horizonte is located in Minas Gerais. It means beautiful
horizon in English, and the town is in the mountains and is
appropriately named. There is a jazz festival in Belo Horizonte each
year, the Savassi Jazz Festival, and Ive had the pleasure of
playing there a couple of times.
I dont know what to say about my playing on that track particularly.
I simply try to play in a manner that evolves out of and compliments
the harmony and has nice phrasing, which is something that I always
try to achieve.
I only use one guitar sound. I dial in the warmest sound I can with
my instrument and amp, and then dont think about it again. Of
course, I do think constantly about my touch on the instrument, which
can vary from gentle and expressive to aggressive. The touch does
affect tone considerably. And I use different volume levels, which
I control with my hands and with the volume knob on my guitar.
mwe3: Is there news in the guitar world catching your eye and
ears in 2013? What guitars are you featuring and playing on the Bing
Bang Boom! album? Are there any recent or future guitar acquisitions
to tell the readers about? Is the vintage guitar market growing these
days or is the accent on new guitars, for instance guitars being built
in other countries?
STEIN: I could talk about guitars for a long time. Where do I
I played a 1962 Epiphone Broadway (made by Gibson in their Kalamazoo,
Michigan factory) on the Bing Bang Boom! CD. Actually, I have
used a different guitar on practically every one of my recordings,
which goes to prove that most of the sound comes from the fingers
and conception of the musician, not from the specific equipment. In
spite of the differences in my equipment, I think my guitar sound
is nearly the same on all my recordings.
The Broadway was my favorite guitar for a heartbeat. Since then, Ive
acquired a guitar that I probably like better than any that I have
used: a 1939 Gibson L4. Its similar to the early 16 inch L5s
but has fancy Nick Lucas-style inlays instead of the L5 dots or block
inlays. The big difference for me, really, is that it is carved out
of solid wood. Until recently, I preferred laminated jazz guitars,
with a quiet even tone that amplified well. Many archtop guitars made
from actual high-quality tone woods are too loud acoustically for
my taste, since my sound comes from the amp. But real-wood guitars
do have a purer tone than plywood guitars, with cleaner and more accurate
overtones, and my newly-acquired but ancient L4 has that pure tone,
and yet it is quiet enough acoustically not to interfere with my ability
to get the sound I want from the amp.
The recent era seems to feature many unique independent builders of
fine guitars. There are many options for someone wanting to use a
handmade instrument, some of which are overseas, but most I think
are American. I dont know whether the interest in handmade guitars
has dampened the interest in vintage. It seems theres room for
everyone who makes a good product, and vintage guitars still hold
recently discovered a man named John Thomas, who has extensively researched
and written a book on Gibson guitars during the World War II years.
The title of the book is Kalamazoo Gals, A Story of Extraordinary
Women & Gibsons Banner Guitars of WWII.
He discovered that, although the Gibson factory was largely converted
to making war materials, and although the men who worked at Gibson
before the war nearly all left to fight the war, Gibson did actually
produce many guitars in that era, and the workers were nearly all
female, as the men were off in the military. Interestingly enough,
Gibson guitars from that era are some of the finest ever produced
by Gibson. They are known as banner guitars, because from
1942 until the end of the war, all the guitars had a banner on the
headstock that said: Only A Gibson Is Good Enough. So,
Banner Gibsons were largely made by women working in the factory while
the men were away. John and I have become friends and it has reawakened
my interest in acoustic flat top guitars. Well see where that
mwe3: Another one of your music related projects getting some
acclaim is your Berklee Jazz Standards For Solo Guitar. That
book also features a CD. What did you set out to achieve with that
book and how did it come about? I saw a bunch of kudos on the book
from big names including Jim Hall and Kenny Burrell. Is the book for
the beginner or more savvy student of the guitar and are you planning
a volume 2?
JOHN STEIN: Im proud of the book and CD, and very grateful
to Berklee Press for publishing it. It features solo guitar arrangements
for ten standard tunes, and due to the expense of obtaining the publishing
rights I needed someone with the ability to license the tunes to make
book is compiled from columns I wrote for Just Jazz Guitar Magazine
over a period of years. I tried to include educational information
about the song forms, the harmony, the arranging concepts, sometimes
even anecdotal stories about the tunes to add value to the book. It
includes standard notation as well as guitar tab, and a recording
of all the arrangements on a CD. It is not a book of graded solos,
nor is it aimed at a particular skill level. I could have made the
arrangements more or less complicated, but instead decided to present
the tunes in an artistic way and hope that approach would be useful
for guitarists at different skill levels. I was fortunate to receive
wonderful compliments from the great guitarists you mentioned, plus
others, to use on the back cover, and Ive enjoyed the reviews
Ive received on Amazon.com from customers who purchased the
book. They seem to feel the book is easier to use and gain benefit
from than similar books, and yet the arrangements are beautiful. I
would love to publish more arrangements. I have almost enough now
for a Volume 2, but it depends upon being able to obtain and pay for
the publishing rights.
mwe3: Hows things up in the Berklee School Of Music in
2013? What courses are you teaching there these days and I noticed
there are some great teachers from Berklee who are also recording
artists these days including Giovanni Moltoni who just released a
fine new album too. It seems that Berklee has a long history of amazing
music teachers and instructors who are also excellent recording artists.
Whats your take on that observation?
JOHN STEIN: Ive been at Berklee a long time. I was educated
there, and then offered a job when I graduated. After all these years,
I still love the school and I love teaching music to Berklee students.
I teach theory classes. Its the same stuff that I encountered
when I got to Berklee and I was a wannabe jazz guitarist. Its
the information that helped me learn to play the tunes I wanted to
play, and gave me the skills to compose my own music. The Berklee
curriculum has been incredibly meaningful to me and I love passing
it along to aspiring musicians. There have been many Berklee faculty
members who have been been recording artists, producers, and music
business professionals over the years. Giovanni Moltoni is one of
many wonderful Berklee-affiliated musicians. Berklee remains a major
destination for musicians from all over the world and it is an exciting
mwe3: What are your upcoming plans as far as new music including
upcoming plans for new recordings and performances and also your work
up at the Berklee school and how about other things youre looking
forward to? Can you say something about the John Stein & The Mingotan
Project and is that a Berklee related project?
JOHN STEIN: My collaboration with Matias Mingote German is
my latest artistic project. It is a personal project, not affiliated
with Berklee. Mingo is an Argentinian drummer (living currently in
Spain), and we are concocting a fusion of jazz with tango and other
Afro-Argentinian grooves. We will be doing what I described
earlier in response to your questions playing a couple of CD
release concerts for my recent recording (Bing Bang Boom!),
then going into the studio to record a new CD. Im excited about
this collaboration, and I have composed some tango music for the first
time. Im counting on Mingo to help me give it an authentic flavor.
The recording will also feature a variety of other jazz styles that
are conducive to musical interaction. We have scheduled a nice concert
tour in May and June this year, including dates in Boston, New York,
the Bay Area and Sonoma County in California, and Southern Oregon.
mwe3: How about other activities outside of music? What do
you like to do to relax? I know its hard for music people to
relax, when theyre not performing or recording, theyre
writing music, teaching music and/or listening to music. What would
you recommend to people in music as far as changing their perspective
or getting a new perspective on life in music and outside of music
JOHN STEIN: Youre right. I spend most of my time practicing,
teaching, performing, composing. Otherwise, I do value my family life
and my friends. Spending social time with them is what balances the
musical activities. I also appreciate and need exercise, and I am
fortunate that I am able to bicycle to Berklee when I teach. I live
the perfect commuting distance by bicycle from Berklee, and most of
my ride is within a lovely park area.
Thanks for the questions, Robert, I appreciate your interest and its
been a pleasure to speak with you.
Thanks to John Stein @ www.JohnStein.com
and Neal Weiss @ www.WhalingCitySound.com