steve adelson chapman stick and guitar master

"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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Strada Sphere Radio

Welcome to our SSR Interview with Stickist/guitarist Steve Adelson.Steve has been a Stickist since 1984,but his musical career started out as a guitarist.He has performed with legendary jazz guitarists Joe Pass,Jack Wilkins and Jimmy Ponder.He started his own music school in Brooklyn, N.Y., The Guitar Workshop,in 1977 and has made numerous recording,festival,seminar, and television appearances both as a guitarist and Stickist.He is a columnist and contributor for 20th Century Guitar and has interviewed his share of guitar virtuosos such as Joe Satriani.Quite a busy man indeed!

Steve's music is steeped in Jazz traditions and his use of MIDI with the Stick within these settings is brilliant.One listen to Steve's latest CD,"The Answer's Inside" will find you sitting in a smokey,New York club,sipping warm Cognac and enjoying some of the best jazz the industry has to offer.His passion for his art and mastery of the Stick is evident throughout as every note and phrase brings on a bigger smile than the last.

Strada-Sphere Radio: 1. Thanx for taking the time to answer a few questions Steve,I appreciate it immensely! 2003 appeared to be a vary active year for you with the NAMM shows,various Jazz festivals, and Stick events as well.Did you manage to get into the studio during that busy year?

Steve Adelson: Actually I only did some minor studio sessions this year. I have intentions of recording a new CD and DVD combo this year of some new music. It will have to wait until all the musicians that I want are available. I'm also networking with some good record labels and this might take the project in another direction. We'll see. It was a very varied year, being on both sides of the production process. B esides performing at some festivals, teaching at seminars and demonstrating at NAMM, I produced a jazz festival in my home town of Long Beach, NY. Quite interesting wearing this other hat. Dealing with 60 musicians, logistics, finances, publicity and all aspects of bringing this together was very educational and rewarding. I think in the long run, it will help my approach to my own career. I look forward to the 2004 version of the Long beach Jazz Festival and some high profile performances.

SSR: 2. Your last recording,"The Answer's Inside", offered up the Stick i n a variety of jazz/fusion/be-bop-esque settings.I hear a lot of Joe Zawinal (Weather Report era) sensibilities. It seems as though you approach the Stick from a keyboardist's perspective rather than a guitarist's on the tune "The Answer is Free".Am I off base here?

SA: There's some truth to this observation. Listeners didn't realize how many of the sounds on "The Answer's Fre e" are Stick derived. The op ening instrument that sounds almost like vibes, is MIDI Stick as well is the electric piano sound and the last solo which was influenced by Pat Metheny's synth guitar. I think of the Stick as part orchestra, part guitar, part bass. Juggling these possibilities in a musical way is the main goal. Arranging and orchestrating in a creative way is extremely challenging. The Stick offers so many possibilities. "Tap Dance" is pretty much Wes Montgomery inspired and emphasizes the guitar aspect with groovin' Paul Chambers walkin' bass lines all from the Stick. Contrasting, is "Woodstick Suite" with Tony Levin where we tried to explore the electric processing aspects. I think each of the eight tunes has a unique flavor.

SSR: 3.You settle into more of a guitarist's role on "Nadda Chants".Who are some of your influences; Guitar or otherwise?

SA: That was natural, since I had Larry Coryell guest on that tune. I had to write something that was guitar ba sed and find that guitar duo ch emistry. The title refers to Larry's lifestyle that incorporates chanting on a regular basis. It was very enjoyable to do those solo interplays in the second half of the tune. Trading phrases with Larry and then doing improvised counterpoint was very stimulating. The first part of that tune featured pianist Dennis Moorman playing a fantastically developed solo that to me is the highlight of the entire CD. Very strong playing. Dennis' piano playing brought all my ideas together and fit into the music wonderfully. It was a distinct pleasure to record with him. Unfortunately, D ennis past away last year. He'll be deeply missed as musician and friend. Now referring to my guitar influences, there are many. At the top of the list would have to be Wes Montgomery for his beautiful tone and unbelievable ideas. A totally natural musician. Django Reinhardt's spirit and swingin' energy are a part of my consciousness. Pat Metheny is a major, major influence for his perception of the " big picture". Not just a great gui tarist, as composer, arranger and performer, he's the best. Here's a partial list of other guitarists that I pay attention to: Michael Hedges, Stanley Jordan, Tuck Andress, John Fahey, Jimmy Raney, Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth and Ben Lacey. Ben's new to the scene but his musicaianship and technique blow me away.

SSR: 4. Being a guitarist as well,did you find the transition to Stick a smooth one and what did you bring to the Stick from your Jazz guitar experience?

SA: It sure helped to come from a guitar background. Strings is strings. Frets is frets. Yeah, I now have twice as many strings and huge frets, but my approach is definitely connected. The Stick offers many, many more voicing possibilities and has really opened up my creative ideas, be it compositionally or from an improv standpoint. The main transition benefit was the ease of application of music theory. The Stick's tuning is ingenious and makes it extremely easy to navi gate. The geometry and shapes of chor ds and scales are actually simpler than guitar.

SSR: 5.You're a veteran Stickist of 20 years now.How has the Stick changed you as a musician with regards to composition?

SA: As I mentioned previously, the palette of possibilities on the Stick is very inspirational. So many variables and every creative variation is there for the player to explore. There's no doubt that the tone range, the string set up, the tapping technique and other less obvious properties steer the player toward creative horizons. It's been very inspiring.

SSR: 6.You use MIDI to great effect and never abuse it.Your implementation always serves the music.When did you first experiment with it?

SA: I probably first used MIDI in the late '90's. It's easy to over use the system. I was very aware of this and limited the synth sounds to 2 or 3 tunes. I knew I was successful when listeners couldn't tell who was playing what. I think the MIDI instrument shouldn't draw atten tion to itself but only contribute like any other instrument.

SSR: 7. I live in the central Florida area and I am aware that you made an appearance at the 1st ever Southeast Stick Seminar last year ( I missed it! ). How was that?

SA: Lotsa' fun. Thanks to Steve Lemke for organizing the event and making it run smoothly. It should be pointed out that these seminars universally bring out some very nice people. I've done probably around ten of these seminars, and it's always a pleasure to meet the students, share information and social ize. In 2003 I did the Southeast Seminar, The Montreal Seminar (organized by Mitch Polgar) and the big World Stick Conference in San Jose (organized by Bob Culbertson). Hats off to all the organizers and the students who made them work so smoothly. I've always said that a successful teaching experience, teaches the instructor as well as the student. I've been teaching for 33 years and I always enjoy the Stick Seminar experience. I'm lo oking f orward to 2004's seminars.

SSR: 8. Tell us about your school,The Guitar Workshop.

SA: I started teaching in 1971 on guitar of course. Teaching in my house and at small studios. Within about 4-5 years I opened up a store front music school. Nothing big, just a place to teach private students and have small jazz concerts. At times I've had some other instructors, but right now I do all the teaching. My students are varied in level, style, age, personality and all. This keeps it interesting. I usually have a 10 to 1 ratio of guitar to S tick students.

SSR: 9. What can a student expect from your lessons?

SA: Whatever they want. I don't teach one style. Each student brings a manuscript book and I develop a story line of information as we go along. Each student ends up with their own unique guitar instruction manual over a period of time. I teach every aspect, theory, technique, repertoire, improv, whatever. I also expose the student to music t hat maybe they never would have heard. If they like it great. If not..... it's back to Nirvanna tunes.

SSR: 10. O.K. Steve,you are aware of our "10th Question" are you not? It's a silly, if not revealing, query. Part whimsy, part psychology, and all in fun. Here goes...

Who,from the following list, would make a fantastic Stickist and why? Why not (carefull! )?

  1. Joe Satriani

  2. Charlie "Bird" Parker

  3. Shroeder (from "Peanuts")

  4. Pablo Picasso

  5. C.S. Lewis (author, "The Screwtape Letters","The Chronicles of Narnia")

SA: Probably Satch. I interviewed him for Twentieth Century Guitar magazine last year. He plays some of that tapping style on guitar already, so he would easily acclimate. And I think he's very musical and melodic. Of course so was Bird, but blowing into a Stick rarely gets positive results. Shroeder, was that the dirty kid? Too small. Picasso? Too dead. For your information, there is a Pikasso Gu itar buil t by Linda Manzer in Toronto. It has 42 strings. C.S. Lewis? Not familiar with his writings. Maybe Jerry Lewis. Thanks. The interview was fun.