Mike Stern is truly one of the great guitarists of our age, equally comfortable in straight ahead jazz, fusion, and rock and roll—he has been in the news most recently for his collaborations with rock guitar hero Eric Johnson. Here is a typically honest 2013 interview in which he discusses much, including his time with Miles:
You mentioned Miles Davis. That must have actually been a difficult period for you in a way in that he was unwell and struggling. And that rock-fusion at the time was not well received by jazz critics. Do you look back on that period fondly?
Definitely. I loved it. People will say what they say, and Miles would always say people will catch on 10 years later with what he was doing. And that was kind of what happened. I wanted to play more bebop and he wanted me to rock. He liked the fact I was playing lines, but he wanted the volume.
I thought we could split the difference maybe and he would say ‘No, no. Let’s rock.’ And he’d always say, ‘Play me some Hendrix’. What he meant was, ‘Play your stuff, but with that attitude’. So I was playing a lot of lines and there was rock in there because I come from that.
It was great experience playing with him, he played so much from the heart. People say what they say but they’ve all turned around and people are discovering it now. He was always ahead of the time. And that always invites criticism. But he always told me, ‘Don’t worry about [criticism]’. So it was a great experience and the only thing is . . . Well, I finally did it sober. (laughs).
I was really messed up in those days and for some of it I was pretty trashed. But, for all that, some of it still came out good. Miles had a way of getting stuff out of people. Then I went back with him and the band was a bit different with keyboard players. That first group was really open with just guitar.
Then Sco [Scofield] played with us for a while. Me and Sco played together in that band, then I left and Sco did it for a while, then Miles added keyboards and I went back with that band when Sco left. It was still a great vibe but it was a little more structured, which is cool. But I liked the first band which was really open and fun. All of it was great because I got to play with him and Jaco Pastorius and Michael Brecker. It was amazing.