Recognized as one of the finest electric guitarists among his peers, Mike Stern was born on January 10, 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts, but grew up in Washington, D.C. before returning to Boston to study at the Berklee School of Music. Stern was only 22 when he joined Blood, Sweat & Tears, with whom he played for three years before signing on with Billy Cobham's jazz fusion outfit, which led to Stern's big breakthrough when Miles Davis enlisted him as guitarist for Davis' return from a five-year musical hiatus in 1981. Stern played and recorded with Davis until 1983, when Stern began touring with Jaco Pastorius, but he rejoined Davis in 1985. In the meantime, Stern had completed work on his 1983 solo album, Neesh, his debut as a bandleader. This time with Davis, Stern stayed on for just a year, after which he cycled through projects by David Sanborn and Steps Ahead while simultaneously recording his follow-up to Neesh, titled Upside Downside, which marked his first release for Atlantic Records' jazz division. Stern continued a steady string of releases for the label over the next few years while continuing to play with several other projects, including Michael Brecker and the reunited Brecker Brothers, eventually scoring his first Grammy nomination with the release of Is What It Is in 1994, then garnering another nomination for his 1996 follow-up, Between the Lines. Stern received his third Grammy nod for his 2001 release Voices, which was Stern's first recording with vocals -- albeit wordless vocalese; it also marked the end of his tenure with Atlantic. Stern issued These Times, his debut album for ESC in early 2004, and two years later, with a cast of impressive backing musicians (Richard Bona, Meshell Ndegeocello, Roy Hargrove, and Kim Thompson, among others), Who Let the Cats Out was released. In 2008, evidence of a dazzling show from that year's European tour was captured and released the next year on concert DVD New Morning: The Paris Concert. 2009 saw Stern earning yet another Grammy nomination for his 14th solo album, Big Neighborhood, which featured guest work from artists such as fellow gunslinger/guitarist Steve Vai and Medeski, Martin & Wood. He returned in 2012 with All Over the Place, working again with trusted producer Jim Beard. In 2014, Eclectic appeared, an ambitious collaboration with guitarist Eric Johnson and featuring guest spots from Stern's wife Leni Stern on vocals as well as singer/songwriter Christopher Cross. The album was recorded mostly live at Johnson's studio.
On July 3, 2016, Stern was hailing a cab to leave for a European tour. He tripped and fell over some construction debris hidden in the street, broke both arms and was taken to the hospital. He fractured both humerus bones and was left with significant nerve damage in his right hand, which prevented him from accomplishing even the simplest of tasks -- including holding onto a guitar pick. Following a surgery in which 11 screws were put into his arm, Stern emerged in late October with Chick Corea during the pianist's two-month residency at the Blue Note. The guitarist had to play seated while wearing a black glove outfitted with velcro attached to a velcro-fitted pick. In November, Stern hit the road for Europe, co-leading a band with drummer Dave Weckl.
Following a second surgery, he gained more control of his nerve-damaged hand by devising a scheme where he literally glued his right-hand fingers to the pick. It strengthened his grip, and allowed him to regain his signature speed and technical precision. In January, he entered Long Island City's Spin Studio with a well-heeled crew of sidemen -- many of whom he had worked with since the '80s: keyboardist/producer Jim Beard, trumpeters Randy Brecker and Wallace Roney, saxophonists Bob Franceschini and Bill Evans, bassists Victor Wooten and Tom Kennedy, and drummers Weckl, Dennis Chambers, and Lenny White. The album was completed in March with the self-deprecating title Trip. His sense of humor was also reflected in the tracks "Screws," and "Scotch Tape and Glue" (his methods to hold onto a guitar pick). Trip was issued some 14 months after the accident by Concord in September 2017. ~ Gregory McIntosh