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Mike Stern: Playing Through the Pain

After suffering a potentially career-ending injury, guitarist Mike Stern forges ahead with a fiery new album

Photo of Mike Stern
Mike Stern (photo by Sandrine Lee)

You can get a lot accomplished in two and a half months. For instance, that’s how long it took legendary New York jazz-rock guitarist Mike Stern to go from having two broken arms—he fell over construction-site debris on the street in New York in the summer of 2016—to gigging at his main hang, the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village. Just as improbably, Stern, whose career began with sideman work for Miles Davis and Jaco Pastorius in the 1980s, was back in the studio only six months later, laying down tracks for his new LP, the aptly titled Trip (Heads Up). An earnest, enthusiastic fusion field day, the album is notable not only for what’s there—contributions from trumpeter Wallace Roney, saxophonist Bill Evans and drummer Lenny White, among others—but also for what’s missing: sonic evidence of Stern’s accident.

At a 55 Bar hit in July, with the leader backed by bassist Harvie S and drummer Richie Morales, you couldn’t hear it either. Stern took long, winding solos that never grew dull or revealed a loss of steam. “You gotta keep going with it, right?” says Stern, 64, before the performance, detailing his injury and two subsequent surgeries. “’Cause everybody’s got shit. I mean, Django, Les Paul, to name a couple. I got a bunch of friends that have had much worse shit than this. And my wife, [guitarist and singer Leni Stern], is a breast cancer survivor of 30 years ago. And she’s been totally cool since then. She went on the road when she was on chemo. So if you got a wife like that, you can’t wimp out—that’s for damn sure [laughs].” BRAD FARBERMAN

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