Born in Munich, Germany, Leni started playing piano at the age of six and guitar at eleven. At seventeen, she formed her own acting company, and her radical productions sold out houses across Europe. In 1977, she turned her attention to music and left for the United States to study film scoring at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Scoring gave way to her love for guitar and in 1981, Leni moved to New York to play in a variety of rock and jazz bands. In 1983, she formed a group of her own with Paul Motion on drums and Bill Frisell on guitar. As a recording artist, she originally made a name for herself in jazz circles (her first nine albums were instrumental,) then crossed her talents over into the singer-songwriter realm, garnering consistent praise in the process. Critics have said her music incorporates “intelligent lyrics and beautifully drawn vignettes” (Washington Post), “crystalline, jazz-meets-blues guitar lines” (Guitar Player), and “thoughtful structure, evocative moods, attention to groove” (San Francisco Bay Guardian). A “Fleet and Lyrical guitarist”, (The New Yorker). “A Gifted Singer-Songwriter with a Wide-Ranging Sensibility and Sophisticated Guitar and Harmonic Chops” (The Boston Globe). Leni runs her own label, LSR/RED.
Five consecutive wins of Gibson’s Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year might make anyone hunker down and focus on going ‘six for six’. But Leni Stern has always defied expectations, and her diverse, 20-year career in music is a textbook example of growth under a self-imposed fire. From the expert instrumentalist, a singer-songwriter emerged, with observations to share from her travels throughout the world. Stern adds: “Why deny the impulse to put words to these experiences? I couldn’t think of a reason.”
With the 2005 release of ‘When Evening Falls’, Stern evoked recent travels to Kenya, India and New Orleans to deliver a haunting singer-songwriter album. Mix in her trademark bluesy guitar solos and the jazz-infused “On The Outside” and “Dancin’ With the Devil”, and a burst of creativity is revealed – ten songs which reflect an artist who has seen the world, experienced life, recorded 13 albums, and continues to grow.
Indeed, with the 2006 release of "Love Comes Quietly," Stern showcases her uncanny ability to paint extraordinary images amid familiar and exotic backdrops alike. The album opens with 'Cheyenne', a rumination on Native American culture, and the destruction and disrepair embodied by the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Stern sings to an apparition, "all I'd ask for is water, send us water..." amid the haunting violins of Ernesto Villa-Lobos.
In 2007, the release of the EP “Alu Maye (Have you heard)” boldly juxtaposed Stern's trademark inventive guitar and vocal explorations with the indigenous sounds of
accomplished African instrumentalists and singers. The result is at once haunting, exuberant, cinematic, personal and resoundingly assured. Stern discovered her surest artistic footing in the sahel and savanna of Africa. AllMusic's Thom Jurek has described Stern as "a musician of uncommon caliber and vision" -- her new EP is sure to validate such an assertion.
Following the success of “Alu Maye,” Stern recorded the full-length 13-song ‘Africa’ CD in Mali, at Salif Keita’s Bamoko Studios. The EP was yet another step in Stern’s evolution as a musician’s musician, without boundaries. In a recent rave review in JAZZIZ Magazine, critic Philip Booth praised: "As an artist, she has become practically unclassifiable. To everyone but the bean counters, that’s a strength...Stern effectively allies her throaty vocals and thoughtful six-string playing with the hypnotic rhythms, percussive textures and singsong choruses of West African music. The kaleidoscopic flickering of multi-stringed instruments makes an entirely natural sonic backdrop for the leader." Stern’s strong bond with Mali was chronicled in a Guitar Player Magazine photo essay last year. The photos and first-person commentary described Stern’s visit to Mali’s Festival in the Desert.
On ’Africa,’ Stern pays tribute to the late Michael Brecker on ’1000 Stars’ and showcases two of his final recordings on ’Saya (Farewell)’ and ’Ousman’. Other collaborators include Amy Sacko and Mah Soumano.
‘Spirit In the Water’ precedes a new, full-length Leni Stern album to be released later in 2010 – details of the full CD will be announced soon. Until then, Stern, who has been described by The New York Times’ Nate Chinen as “a guitarist and vocalist with an ethereal sensibility,” is in the midst of a series of international performances, on tour with the legendary Salif Keita. She recently made a return performance to the famed Festival in the Desert in Essakane, Mali.