"Jazz is the sound of suprise, and Steve Adelson's The Answer's Inside keeps the unexpected going with the lyrically swinging Chapman Stick, adding a new dimension to listening."
-Nat Hentoff - (jazz literary legend)
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I must admit to feeling a few pangs of intimidation when Steve Adelson dropped in at E-G.com. The jolts of fear were not only sparked by the fact Steve is an extraordinary musician, but because he ladles his musical genius onto a 12 string finger feast known as the Chapman Stick.
If like me, you are scratching your head pondering "what's a Chapman Stick", here's an excerpt from an article Steve wrote for Twentieth Century Guitar magazine that will help explain...
"Most guitarists are aware of the Chapman Stick and some have been fortunate enough to play this intriguing instrument. Though much has been written about the Stick it may be difficult to convey in print the musical inspiration that can be discovered through actual performance. Expression is always the musician's goal and often this is limited by the vehicle used. How satisfying it would be to have access to all melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic capabilities with various timbres. To complement a melody or solo with bass lines, chords and rhythm would be ideal. The ingenious design of the Chapman Stick not only allows but encourages all these ideas to be channeled from the player. Imagine a guitarist and bassist thinking as one, using all the nuances of a string instrument such as slides, vibrato, and string bends, plus the rhythmic possibilities found in piano technique. Because of the Stick's extremely wide range and accompanying two-handed technique, choices of voicings, counterpoint, poly-rhythms, and every aspect of musical expression are abundant. An unorthodox but very logical tuning gives the player easy access to all forms of harmony and style".
Were my initial jitters a rational reaction?...one listen to Steve's latest release 'The Answers Inside' proved to be a resounding yes!
Essential Guitarist: The latest Steve Adelson album “The Answers inside” is now available. Your performance throughout showcases a great mastery of the Chapman Stick. What inspired you to explore the various musical styles on “The Answers inside”?
Steve Adelson: I enjoy playing many styles of music. My musical heart has taken me from the 60's Woodstock days through the modern jazz and electronic genres. If it feels and sounds right then it becomes fair game. On the CD, the music was written and inspired by the events in my life at that time and the musicians who I lined up for the session. So the 3 different drummers called for varying grooves. The tune written for Larry Coryell was inspired by what I thought would bring out his strong points. I also think that a CD shouldn't be one dimensional. If the tunes have the same instrumentation and flavor, then the listener will probably tune out after 3 or 4 songs. I feel strongly, that every composition and improv on this recording takes the listener for a completely different ride. Instrumental music can be artsy and entertaining at the same time.
EG: Did you write the music for “The Answers inside” with a specific direction in mind?
SA: Well, I wanted to integrate the Stick into a group setting and have a real band flavor. It wasn't meant to be a "look at me, I'm tapping two simultaneous parts" kinda' deal. The bottom line was to make music that excited the listener. I'm very pleased when non-musicians tell me they enjoyed the music.
EG: Jazz guitar legend Larry Coryell drops in for a guest spot on “Nada Chants (9 on 12)”, how did you guys hook up?
SA: I've known Larry for probably ten years. I've opened for him on occasion and we've played a few duet/trio tunes. I called him for the possibility of having him on this recording. He happened to be appearing at the Blue Note and was in town. So he made some time one afternoon and graciously came to the studio to lend his talents.
EG: The CD notes state “Woodstick Suite” is your first recorded Stick duet (with Tony Levin), Have you played with Tony before? You guys seem to intuitively bounce off each other when jamming.
SA: No. It was the first time we ever played together. First of all Tony is a busy guy, a really busy guy. It was also just an experiment since the possibility of so many strings on two Sticks could have been a disaster. There really hasn't been much documentation of dual Stick playing in the thirty years of its existence. The Stick band with Bob Culbertson did some of this in the 1980's I believe. Anyway, playing with Tony was fun and I hope we can do it again sometime in the future.
EG: “Woodstick Suite” comes across as really energetic; do you get an extra buzz when improvising with another Stick player?
SA: I've only done the duo Stick thing with Tony and Bob C. It is fun but probably not logical. Too much juggling of same turf situations. It's easier to play with a pianist or vibes player. But I did get a buzz from playing with Tony, since he is Tony.
EG: Apart from fellow Stick and jazz players, where do you draw inspiration from?
SA: Anywhere and everywhere. Of course guitarists are primary. Wes Montgomery for his phrasing and ideas, Pat Metheny for his arranging and big picture concepts, Django's swing, Holdworth's exploratory melody playing, Jeff Beck, Michael Hedges, Pat Martino and so on. Piano players are important influences. Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock are a few. Oh and let me mention Lyle Mays. Phenomenal!
EG: Have you performed any of the material from “The Answers inside” live yet? How easy is it to arrange this style of music for the stage?
SA: We have performed in different size group settings. Not all the musicians are always available nor is the budget usually there. They're all great players so adapting to the various situations is not hard. And by now they all know my music and how I play. I've performed with some of the guys for 15 years, so we're musical brothers.
EG: Before we leave the topic of your current release, I must mention the pianist Dennis Moorman he sounds insane. Where did you find this guy? Space?
SA: I've known Dennis for 25 years. When I used to play guitar, we did some quartet standard jazz gigs. We kept in touch but hadn't played too much over the last few years. I initially contacted Kenny Barron for the piano chair for this CD but he couldn't make it. I figured I would give Dennis a shout and we connected like we had been rehearsing forever. He grasped my new music in no time and was really our secret weapon. He flat out played fantastically. I'm so glad he made the session. Unfortunately, Dennis passed away not too long after the recording. He will be deeply missed as a musician and friend. He lives through the music.
EG: Lets talk about your musical career. You founded a guitar workshop back in 1977, is that something you are still actively involved with?
SA: Yes. That's my day gig. I've been teaching guitar for 33 years, 5 to 6 days a week. I've also taught my share of Stick students. Teaching is very rewarding and educational for both the teacher and student.
EG: You used to teach and perform with Joe Pass; I bet that experience was invaluable. What did you learn from playing with a musician of that caliber?
SA: When I played guitar, I was very fortunate to have played with some of the greatest jazz players around. It was my university. I did some cable TV shows and had a steady duo guitar gig for two years where each week I played with different players. In that time span, I was lucky enough to play briefly with Joe, Jimmy Ponder, Tal Farlow, Attilla Zoller, Jack Wilkins, Chuck Wayne and maybe 50 other top players. Quite the learning experience.
EG: What kind of guitar player were you before the stick caught your imagination?
SA: Primarily straight ahead jazz. I was taken by Wes Montgomery's playing and learned a lot of his material. I even did a Wes tribute night with his one time rhythm section of Harold Mabern on piano and Jimmy Lovelace on drums. I loved to play Django tunes and some bop ala Jimmy Raney. And before all this jazzy stuff, I primarily fingerpicked in the John Fahey, Leo Kottke tradition.
EG: How long did it take you to become comfortable with the technical and harmonic aspects of the Stick?
SA: I think yesterday was the first time that happened.
SA: Actually the Stick is a very user friendly instrument, so it was easy to start learning its ins and outs. The great part is the amount of possibilities that the Stick has to offer. I find new ideas each and every day. It's amazing.
EG: How do you go about composing\writing simultaneous bass, chords and lead lines? With my extreme lack of knowledge in this area I am assuming the approach has more in common with the piano than guitar.
SA: Well, first I'm thinking guitar, then bass. Then piano, then band. All these possibilities are on the fretboard. Ten fingers and all those strings and frets just open up the floodgates of ideas. Since my background was guitar, the ergonomics of the strings was easy to adapt to. So really I don't think pianistically, except for the counterpoint concept. My voicings and harmonies are much more related to the guitar.
EG: The ‘touch technique’ seems to have a close association with the Stick. What exactly is this technique?
SA: Emmett Chapman discovered and refined the full blown concept of tapping strings on a fretboard about 35 years ago. The fingers act much like the hammers inside a piano by striking the strings. The vibration against the fret, commonly done on guitar as hammer ons, produces the sound. Having ten independent voices on twelve strings is just plain overwhelming and inspiring. So playing bass, melody, harmonies, improvs and rhythms simultaneously, becomes a very real and practical element.
EG: I imagine varying dynamics on the Stick to be a difficult task. How do you go about differing the attack on a primarily legato (hammers and pulls) based instrument? (Again, my lack of knowledge presents itself)
SA: Since we're dealing with an electronic instrument, the dynamic range is very varied. Depending on the choice of effects and processors, the player can control much of the expressive character of the Stick. The instrument also runs through a stereo cable, so the melody and bass can be treated differently in every sonic way. Two of my Sticks also have MIDI capabilities.
EG: One of the elements to your style that impressed me when watching the live videos available on (www.steveadelson.com) was your ability to coax funky bass lines and pseudo slap and pop sounds from your Stick. Victor Wooten would be jealous. Is this funk element something you targeted to develop when practicing?
SA: I don't know if I can get Victor to be jealous. Playing music is about much more than the notes. The feel is crucial and I think that's what you're talking about. The snappiness of my bass was important to make the groove happen. It just developed. If you have a certain sound in your head, the fingers will follow.
EG: I noticed your right hand thumb creeping in to help tap out some very wide intervallic ideas in the ‘guitar show improv’ video clip. Is this a common technique? I’ve never seen anything like it.
SA: It's common in my house. I love the Stick because it does offer these varied techniques that give the player melodic and harmonic ideas maybe unattainable on any other instrument. Or even on two instruments for that matter. I'm always searching for new ways of coaxing out more music, so techniques have a way of showing up. Then the job is to make them musical. All Stick players are pioneers. Oh what fun.
EG: Are there any Stick concepts you could share with us that would translate well onto the guitar?
SA: Not really. All I can say is that playing the Stick has made me think differently when I approach the guitar. Problem is, I don't approach the guitar that often anymore.
EG: I expect most people will find it a shock to learn the Stick has been around in its various forms for nearly 30 years. Why do you think the Stick has remained a relatively exclusive instrument?
SA: Two reasons. One, it's a finely made instrument , therefore it's not cheap. You can start on guitar for $200. Not a large investment if you don't follow through. Number two most inquiries come from people who already play another instrument. To devote time into the Stick you're probably gonna' have to sacrifice practice time on your other instrument. More people are playing the Stick though. And it is finding its way into some mainstream arenas.
EG: You write for 20th Century guitar magazine, what insights has this given you into the workings on the industry? Has it given you an edge when manipulating the press to your advantage?
SA: I don't have the power to manipulate anything. It has opened a few doors and helped me network. Slowly though. Writing and being a journalist is just another creative avenue.
EG: What’s next for Steve Adelson?
SA: Sleep!!. It's 2:00 in the morning
EG: G'night Steve.