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Steve Adelson

Renowned New York jazz musician, band leader, Stick guru and writer Steve Adelson brings a diverse guitar background and sharp wit to his playing and teaching styles.

FEATURE AND INTERVIEW BY GREG HOWARD

Ask anyone who knows about jazz and The Stick and you'll hear two names pop up: Emmett Chapman and Steve Adelson. These two "former" guitarists share a lot in common: a passion for performing, harmony, teaching, and wordplay. Emmett draws on the realms of John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, McCoy Tyner, and Jimi Hendrix, whereas Steve's muse is often more traditionally focused, with Wes Montgomery and the pantheon of great jazz guitarists as key elements, but not the only elements. Anyone listening to Steve's recordings or watching him in concert will hear an inviting blend of guitar-inspired sounds reaching beyond jazz to every style imaginable.

Steve has performed and recorded for many years with his revolving "Stick-tet", which has featured some great New York jazz musicians like vibraphonist Bryan Carrott and percussionist Nydia Liberty Mata. His 2007 CD, Adventures in Stickology, features pairings of Stick and guitar stylists with drums, percussion and the jawdroppingly musical washboard work of David Langlois. Guest musicians include Dean Brown, Chieli Minucci, Ben Lacy, Stephane Wrembel, Phil DeGruy, Tony Levin and more. With all these heavyweight planets orbiting Steve's stellar core, the music is conversational, energetic, and always fun. His penchant for making connections with other great players like Larry Corryell, Muriel Anderson and recently, Les Paul, finds him surprising diverse audiences with his virtuosity and musicality, driving the bass, comping the chords, and soloing with dizzying speed and melodic invention.

Steve's prolific output of instructional materials, (2008's Stickology book and DVD from Mel Bay, and a pending series of online CD Rom lessons from TrueFire, see preview video interview below), and active travels to Stick seminars around the world, are helping get a new generation of Stickists started. His live shows are reaching into the guitar world like no Stick player has before.

I asked Steve about his roots, his sounds, and how he's branching out into new media (see the INTERVIEW below).

For upcoming performances : www.stevedelson.com


Steve and Bob Culbertson mix it up in Tokyo,
at Ishibashi Music's "Stick Live 2007"



INTERVIEW

Greg: Most people familiar with The Stick know you as a jazz, player, but your music is much broader than that. What do you like to listen to outside of jazz?

Steve: My "hippie" 60's music background is still in my blood. Among the groups I listened to and still do to this day are The Allman Brothers, Procol Harum, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, and of course The Beatles. I enjoy doing Stick covers of this repertoire. The cool challenge in arranging these tunes for The Stick is integrating as many of the orchestrated parts as possible, juggling, bass line, chords, melody, horns (if they exist) and drum rhythms. Fun!

Back to my listening pleasures, I would also include master guitarists like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani and Alan Holdsworth. The list is long. I also appreciate fingerstyle guitar players like Adrian Legg, John Fahey, Tommy Emmanuel, Chet Atkins and my fave, Michael Hedges. And older blues dudes like Mississippi John Hurt and Rev. Gary Davis.

"Minor Thing" performed by Steve and David Langlois

For more about Steve's activities, CDs and DVDs please see::
www.stevedelson.com
www.myspace.com/steveadelsondavidlanglois
Steve Adelson CDs
Concert on the Chapman Stick DVD

I'm not an opera fan at all, but probably my most favorite piece of music of all time is the instrumental prelude to "Tristan and Isolde" by Wagner. I also enjoy some good bluegrass, some Stevie Wonder funk and some heavy stuff like the bands Ministry or Nine Inch Nails while I'm working out at the gym.

It's interesting how the jazz thing crept into my life. When I first took guitar lessons in my late teen years, my teacher, Charlie Didier, exposed me to jazz. Charlie was an exceptional player and instructor and I figured if I followed his guidance I could apply this "sophisticated" genre he taught me and be a badass rocker. Well, listening to Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt just changed everything. So I still play Zep tunes but all those years of learning and digesting the jazz repertoire has become my blood transfusion. It's like having a foreign accent. It's in every musical statement I make even if the tune is by Jimi Hendrix.


Sitting in with with Les Paul at The Iridium in Manhattan, January 2009
Bottom line is I'm open to all sonic possibilities. From experimental, and ambient, to country and metal, if it has quality and interest, I'll absorb it.

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Greg: You came to The Stick from a jazz guitar background, and as you said, you were also into fingerstyle players, what kinds of ideas and techniques from the guitar were you able to bring with you to The Stick? And what kinds of things have you found that weren't there for you on the guitar?

Steve: Learning to play jazz on the guitar was a real challenge. The vocabulary is so extensive and the flexibility of the language is ever expanding. I always enjoyed this huge palette of possible creative ideas. Guitar fingerpicking technique was/is considered a fairly sophisticated concept and has since evolved into many sub-styles. It's a very orchestral way of presenting guitar music.

So, again the challenge is to bring this knowledge to The Stick and find ways to present similar ideas but with a new flair. More complex chords are actually easier on The Stick. Acrobatic fingerings are unnecessary. With the two handed concept of polychords, the toughest extended or altered chord becomes simple. To get technical, let's say you have a Gm11. This chord is spelled G Bb D F A C. Well if you play G Bb D (Gmi) with the left hand in the bass, and F A C (F Maj) with the right on the treble strings, the combination of these two very simple triads equals the desired Gm11 chord. The fingerings become very easy. The player just has to learn the chemistry of the multi-triad combinations.



Scales, arpeggios and other melodic ideas are easier to play as well. They're smoother to play on The Stick because you don't have to work on coordinating the attack of the picking hand with the fingered note. Of course tapping the notes also inspires new improv ideas.

A larger challenge to me has been the rhythmic element. Guitarists strum drum-like patterns. Although we can indeed strum The Stick, it's not optimum. Searching for alternatives has been thought provoking. One concept that grabs some of the aforementioned fingerpicking ideas with wonderful rhythmic elements is the technique I call "The Claw" (Emmett calls it "FingerSticking"). The flow and sequence of fingers looks guitaristic but the sound is unique. I also love exploring different geographical areas of The Stick's fretboard. Either hand can/should play anywhere, any string, any fret area.

To me, the real inspiration is exploring all the open possibilities that The Stick offers. It's still very new and its musical history is very virgin (well almost). The creative possibilities are truly limitless.

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Greg: You've been a fan of the Roland Virtual Guitar (VG) processors for a long time, and even have a track on their latest demo CD for the VG99. Do you alter your playing any when you're using this device, or does it just feel like an extension of what you normally do?

Steve: I view the VG99 as actually part of my instrument. I enjoy processing different sounds and effects to lead me in different directions. Whether I'm trying to copy a particular guitarist's tone or attempting to create my own, the VG99 is perfect for completing the desired affect. The tone quality of Wes Montgomery's playing or Alan Holdsworth's soaring legato lines are very appealing to me. These are two sound patches I tweaked into the Roland processor. I have about two dozen sounds that I use depending on the style I'm playing. On my last CD, Stickology, this became very useful. At the time I was using the previous model, the VG88, but with a similar purpose. When I recorded with nine different guitarists on different tracks, I had to alter my sounds to be complimentary and at the same time unique.



The tracking of the VG99 is not an issue at all. Despite using the Roland midi pickup and accompanying 13-pin cable, there is no delay whatsoever in attack to sound recognition. I use it both in the studio and live. Don't leave home without it.

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Greg: Are there any universal musical concepts you think are essential to studying this instrument? For your students who've never played the guitar or bass, what kinds of things do you find helpful in approaching tapping on strings?

Steve: First thing I always emphasize is the logic of The Stick's fretboard. The universal tuning of 4ths and 5ths makes the geometry so much easier than guitar navigation (the guitar has an uneven tuning layout). An innocent bystander might find it hard to believe but the Stick's tuning simplifies the fingering vocabulary by extraordinary proportions. Unlike guitar books that offer 9,654,000 chord shapes, you can do it all with SIX fingerings on The Stick. REALLY!

Three Major chord shapes (inversions) and three minors are plenty. Using the previously described polychord approach, all the "sophisticated" voicings can be accomplished easily. Fingerings can be transferred all over the Stick's fretboard. And the dot inlays, every five frets, makes this even easier. I always suggest mapping out on paper, the notes on a Stick's fretboard and seeing the repeated sequences of note placement. It's unbelievable how simple this makes the visual element of playing.

As far as actual physicality, I find the ergonomics of The Stick so much easier than guitar or bass. It's virtually impossible to get a muffled or buzzed note. Except for the infamous "skronk" (string pushed over the edge) all notes sound crystal clear with minimal effort. And practice time increases since the hand weary factor is decreased. It's a very addictive instrument. The more you learn, the more the Stick gives back and opens new doors to creativity. This is self-inspiring and joyful.



Greg: I've listened to all of your discs and watched your videos and also seen you perform many concerts, so I know how much you enjoy working with different combinations of musicians. You've had a lot of interactions with some pretty famous ones, including recording with Tony Levin, and also your recent gigs sitting in with Les Paul in New York. Was there ever a "favorite configuration" or especially memorable on-stage chemistry for you?

Steve: I'm always most comfortable with my regular crew of players which include my main man Bryan Carrott on vibes and Nydia "Liberty" Mata or David Langlois on percussion. Bryan hears and responds like no one else I know. Playing with him has really accelerated my Stick musical learning curve. Nydia is very sensitive to my music and David just swings his butt off on his novel washboard plus pots and pans set up. You can hear and see all of them in action all over youtube.

Other players that I have love playing with are my friend Chieli Minucci, (guitarist from Special EFX), Dean Brown (guitarist with everyone), Rachel Z (piano) and guitar phenom Ben Lacy. There have been many great drummers along the way too. Recently I performed with Danny Gottlieb. I've had the opportunity to jam with some celebs including Jack Bruce, Stanley Jordan, Jeff Berlin, Larry Coryell and others. Probably the most memorable of all was a 20-minute jam session I had with the great Pat Metheny. First I gave him a short tutorial on the Stick then we played 2 or 3 songs together — a great memory indeed.

All these situations have been memorable but alas, there is one scenario that I hold in my heart as extra special. I produce the annual four-day Long Beach (NY) Jazz Festival and of course I perform a set. The last few years I've invited friends to join my ensemble, one at a time, so we start as a duo and end up with a nine or ten piece band. Drums, multi-percussion, vibes, piano, guitars, sax, etc and Stick. The mix some how ends up in a perfect sonic blend of ideas. As you know, these are magical moments.

Greg: Your Stickology method book, published by Mel Bay last year, has been getting rave reviews from Stick players, both for the lesson material and your humorous style. What new things can players expect from your TrueFire videos which are scheduled to come out this summer?

QUICKTIME VIDEO INTERVIEW: Steve talks about the "Ulimate Stick" CD-ROM course
from TrueFire.com, due out late-spring, 2009:

Steve: I deeply appreciate all the positive feedback I've received concerning the book with DVD. As you know, it's very rewarding to document your ideas and pass them along to a community of enthusiastic musicians. I want to thank Mel Bay for seeing the value in publishing Stickology as a "music first" endeavor.

Likewise kudos to TrueFire for seeing the validity of this unique instrument and new "Free Hands" way of playing developed by Emmett Chapman. TrueFire has numerous guitar video instruction classes but to their credit they were able to move further outside the box on this one. In mid-2008, I went to their studios and over two days, recorded 40 segments of Stick instruction, each roughly three to seven minutes long, so the total will be over three hours of video when finished. Right now they're still editing my material as well as many other guitar projects so it looks like a summer 2009 release. It's tentatively titled "Ultimate Stick". The videos will cover all aspects of information, from Stick musical vocabulary to techniques and gear and everything in between.

As for musical humor?... In a blues band, remember it's all for one and one-four-five.



Steve's Double-DVD from TrueFire is now available



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