Michael Jefry Stevens

Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet

Performing in the jazz quartet format has always been one of my most comfortable and expressive musical formats.  Probably half of my recorded output is in the quartet format.  Many of my long-standing projects have been in the quartet format including The Fonda/Stevens Group, Conference Call Quartet, Eastern Boundary Quartet, Generations Quartet, The Katie Bull Project, and the Lily White Band.  Additionally, I continue to be involved with several vocalists, also in the quartet format.  These include Wendy Jones, Joyce Cobb, Miles Griffith, Nicole Metzger and Brian “Breeze” Cayolle. 

Currently I am involved in two quartet projects of note.  The first is the quartet featuring Rick Dilling (drums), Zack Page (bass) and Todd Wright (saxophone).  This ensemble is featured on my “Red’s Blues” CD release.  The second quartet features Christian Howes (violin), Rick Dilling (drums) and Bryan McConnell (bass).  This quartet is featured on my latest CD release “Precipice”.

 

The members...

Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet videos

CD Releases

Click an album to read the reviews and liner notes

The cultural dynamism of Michael Jefry Stevens has accustomed us to different projects, from free-jazz to mainstream without interruption . The American musician has elevated a golden principle of jazz to a rule: the ability to transform his expressive figure, to continuously reveal new stylistic facets.

In this live CD we appreciate the compositional qualities oriented towards the swing, anchored to the solid bases of jazz. It ranges from Monkian reminiscences of the third song to the Latin aromas of “Little Pete’s Diner”, passing through the blues (“Memphis Ramble”) and the ballad (“One for Suzie”). From the beginning, the thriving melodies dictated by Todd Wright’s sax are imposed, which thus leaves a deep mark on a CD that is already remarkable in itself.

In addition to the sum of four excellent individualities, the value of Red’s Blues also lies in the happy collective interaction that gives rise to intense musicality. Despite their immediate enjoyment or immediacy, the refined original compositions of the leader unfold through a complex harmonic-rhythmic plot that lives on sumptuous counterpoints.

The happy composition vein, the executive class and a convinced planning make this CD a concentrate of exquisite musicality, reserved for those who expect deep emotions from jazz. Beyond the musical analysis, this quartet has in it that innate communication that goes straight to the heart of the listener.

Track Listing: The Healing; Waltz for H; Neue Blues; Love’s Song; Little Pete’s Diner; Memphis Ramble; One for Suzie; Autumn; Red’s Blues.

Personnel: Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Todd Wright: saxophones; Zack Page: bass; Rick Dilling: drums.

TitleRed’s Blues | Year Released: 2019 | Record LabelARC – Artists Recording Collective

Planet Earth is hurting.  I don’t see how any conscious human being could dispute this fact.  Most of the music on this CD I composed as a direct result of my concern for humanity. 

Survivor’s of Abaco was written as a response to the tragic hurricane that hit the island of Abaco in the Caribbean several years ago.  Watching the news reports, I could not help but be touched by the depth of the suffering that these islanders were experiencing.  Having traveled and played on many of these Caribbean islands in my 20’s and 30’s brought their pain and suffering even closer to home!!  The music is an intricate long form but, I believe, still quite melodic and beautiful.

Larry’s Birthday Song was composed as a homage to my dear friend Larry Percy on his 70th birthday.  It is written in a honkytonk style and represents Larry’s love for the early jazz styles of the 20’s and 30’s.  Nothing fancy, just the blues.

The Precipice refers to this historic time on our planet Earth.  Climate change, floods, rampant fires, extreme weather, Covid, unemployment, homelessness: All these 21’st century problems and more.  I believe humanity is sitting on a precipice.  Our very survival is at stake.  I don’t know what will happen, but I worry about the children.  Hence, the title!  The musical structure is built around a C minor to Ab Major7 chord progression with some chromatic II V I interludes. I can hear my McCoy Tyner influences in this piece (think Contemplation).

Elegy for Planet Earth is another composition that struggles with the serious issues we are facing today.  This is a through-composer ballad which features Christian Howes on violin.  There are no solos.  Just the expression of the melody.

We Miss You Eliot is dedicated to the late bassist Eliot Wadopian who passed away in 2022.  Eliot was more than just a brilliant musician.  Eliot was a person of great heart, spirit and mind.

I will miss him.  This is another long form composition.  The first three melodic notes are built off the rhythm of the name “Eliot”.

Linda’s Song was one of several commissions that I received during the pandemic.  Thanks to Linda Hudgins for her support and friendship.  This is a pretty standard bossa nova which is quite fun to play. 

The Supreme Cost refers to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg death in 2022.  I immediately knew that her loss was going to a be a great tragedy for our country.  Originally composed as a ballad the tune eventually turned into some kind of Latin groove which is quite fun to play over.

I hope you enjoy this recording.  The players are magnificent.  Christian Howes brings so much depth, spirit and talent to my music.  He is really in a class by himself.  Bryan McConnell is an extraordinary bassist.  He made those difficult bass lines sound easy to play.  They are NOT!!!!

Rick Dilling is a magician on the drums.  He is constantly listening!!!!!  You just can’t ask for more than that.

This music was recorded in New York City on June 6, 1997.  Hard to believe that was twenty-five years ago.  I believe this recording is one of the most important documents of my career.  I can’t explain why it has taken so long to release this music.  Instead, I will try to explain how this recording and this quartet of incredibly talented musicians came together for a brief period of time in Brooklyn, NY in the mid 1990’s.

Brooklyn.  I lived there from 1981 until 2001.  During that period of time Brooklyn was a bit of an oasis for younger jazz musicians.  Dave Douglas, Mark Feldman, Mike Formanak, Jeff Lederer, Mark Dresser, Herb Robertson, Todd Isler, Ralph Hamperian, Billy Hart, Jay Branford, Kip Reed, John Goldsby, Pheeroan AkLaff, Jeff Siegel, Tim Whalen, Lily White, Phil Haynes, Scott Napoli, Bruce Barth, Jeff Raheb and a multitude of other young musicians were living in close proximity to each other in Brooklyn.  Ron Vincent, the drummer on this recording, lived two blocks away from me as did Adam Kolker who performs here on saxophones and bass clarinet.  Dean Johnson was also a neighbor and together they formed a rather tight rhythm section with Ron on drums and Dean on bass.  There were sessions happening all the time.  My apartment had drums, a piano, amplifiers and was available for sessions any afternoon of the week.  We had to stop around 6pm which was when the neighbors came home from work.  Jeff Raheb and I had developed the 17-piece Brooklyn Jazz Composer’s Orchestra during that time period, and Ron Vincent was the drummer and Dean Johnson was the bassist.  Adam Kolker was in the band as well.  I believe this is how the quartet evolved.  While we played a few gigs along the way the quartet was primarily getting together to rehearse my original music.  In hindsight I must admit that this recording is probably the best these compositions ever sounded. 

Ron has been asking me for years to release this recording.  Several months ago we approached Dean and Adam and everyone agreed it would be great to finally get this music out into the world.

 

So here it is.  Twenty-five years later.  I was truly blessed to record these compositions with some of the finest musicians in the world.  That was always the main reward for living in the “City”.  It was never about the money.  It was always about the music.

 

Thanks Ron, Dean and Adam.  You guys play your asses off!!!!!!

 

Michael Jefry Stevens

January 6, 2022

 

Returning to this recording 25 years later is a joyful surprise. Hearing Michael’s great compositions and re-experiencing the simpatico the four of us had is really wonderful.
We’ve all gone on to many other musical situations through the years but I’m so glad that this time in our musical lives was documented and is now available for others to enjoy.

Hey, maybe it’s time to record again!

Ron Vincent

 

For the Children Michael Jefry Stevens (Cadence Jazz) Moving Stills In Transit (Unit) by Wilbur MacKenzie

The two newest releases by pianist Michael Jefry Stevens reveal two complementary facets of the pianist’s musicianship. Though the instrumentation is similar in both, the records were made almost a decade apart, with the older album featuring a lengthy set of Stevens compositions and the more recent album comprised entirely of spontaneous compositions. Taken in tandem, they provide a very telling cross-section of the pianist’s skills and versatility. 

For The Children was recorded almost a decade ago (now reaching listeners thanks to the Cadence Jazz Historical Series) and features Dominic Duval (bass),David Schnitter (saxophone) and Jay Rosen (drums).The group plays a diverse sampling of Stevens’ tunes. This would be the ideal record for a listener looking to hear this collection of players operating in a more overtly jazz-oriented setting. 

All the compositions are more directly reminiscent of standard jazz vocabulary than listeners are likely to expect given Stevens’ groups like Conference Call, Fonda/Stevens Group and the wonderful Mosaic Sextet, where traditional jazz vocabulary is just one of many influences that contribute to a pan-stylistic ensemble dynamic. The rhythm section of Rosen and Duval is a power house with a reputation for providing plenty of diving energy for Joe McPhee in his Trio X, so it is quite atreat to hear them operate so exquisitely in a setting that puts very different skills on display. “Sadness of the Madness”, “The Hunt”, “Sunny’s Song” and the title track are all very lyrical, subdued works that display Stevens’ affinity for composers like Duke Ellington while upbeat cuts like “Specific Gravity”, “Henderson” and “Patato’s Song” propel forward unrelentingly, but without giving over to complete abandon. 

The intensity level gets quite high but the vibe stays focused on its goals. The record’s title track is dedicated to Dominic Duval’s triplet sons, who were born just before the recording was made. Switzerland’s In Transit uses as much energy, intensity and sensitivity on Moving Stills as the American band, but with no precomposed material. The more abstract foundation provides for more shifting, unpredictable morphology, with changes in texture and dynamics serving as tools for expressing the quartet’s dedication to nuanced interaction. 

The disc was recorded in 2004 and features Stevens with the trio of drummer Dieter Ulrich, bassist Daniel Stüder and saxophonist Jürg Solothurnmann. “Canto Lunatico” maintains an unbridled level of intensity throughout, foregoing pleasantries in favor of brute force; there are plenty of other opportunities for delicacy, like on “Afar” or “Adagio”, for example, both expansive landscapes in which to enjoy the group’s more subtle qualities .In the liner notes, Solothurnmann likens the ensemble’s methodology to that of a child creatinge laborately imaginative constructs with building blocks, pointing out that the group’s “instant composition” approach taps into the superego, placing the emphasis on the “doing, the becoming, the way”, creating the type of “moving still” that is referred toby the title of the record. 

The contrast between the clearly-specified portraiture of the Stevens-penned compositions on the first disc and the paradoxical concept of the “moving stills” on the second contrast nicely and the two facets of his work are both compelling listening experiences. 

For more information, visit cadencejazzrecords.com andunitrecords.com. Stevens is at Douglass Street Musi cCollective Sep. 24th with Conference Call. See calendar.

Mountain Song

Style: jazz waltz

Grade: 3

I wrote this song while I was living in Brooklyn, NY and spending quite a bit of time in Woodstock, NY.  This is the closest thing to a “country music” song I have ever written.  This composition was recorded by myself and bassist Eliot Wadopian on our "Mountain Song" duo CD.  This piece is extremely playable at most levels!!!

Mountain Song

$2.49

Alisiah

Style: Swing

Grade: 1

Alisiah is one of my earliest compositions. The tonality revolves around C major, F major and Eminor. It is a very simple medium tempo swing tune. Nothing fancy.  This piece was recorded on my "Duets" CD with vibraphonist Jason DeCristofaro.

Alisiah

$2.49

For My Brother

Style: Ballad

Grade: 2

The harmonies move quite slowly in this ballad.  The most challenging aspect of the piece are the 2/4 bars.  This ballad was recorded on Jon Hemmersam's "Remembering" CD release which also featured Dave Liebman and Rakalam Bob Moses.

For My Brother

$2.49

Lei’s Song

Style: Waltz

Grade: 2

This is one of my favorite compositions.  Written in 3/4 time, but with phrases grouped in three’s, four’s and other odd groupings this is a very unique piece.  Also, it is made up entirely of minor 7 chords.  The Fonda/Stevens Group recorded this tune on our CD "The Healing".

Lei’s Song

$2.49

The Beauty That We Are

Style: Ballad

Grade: 1

This ballad is quite easy to play.  The changes move very slowly giving the student plenty of time to navigate the harmonic landscape.

The Beauty That We Are

$2.49

The Moffett Family

Style: Blues

Grade: 2

This piece was composed in the early 1980's and dedicated to Charnett Moffett and his family band. I played with the band for one year. The tune is a simple form containing only dominant chords. The feel is very bluesy.

The Moffett Family

$2.49

Red’s Blues

Style: Blues, swing

Grade: 2

This is a very simple “swing” composition with a bluesy feel but not in a Blues form. The changes are very simple. The head is a question-and-answer with the melody and the rhythm section.  A good piece to introduce the blues scale to students. Released on my "Red's Blues" CD.

Red’s Blues

$2.49

Song for Rio

Style: Latin

Grade: 3

I wrote this bossa nova after visiting Rio in 1999.  The form is quite long and the bridge is very chromatic.  The piece is highly melodic and quite fun to play.  The "Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio" recorded this tune on our "Six" CD release.

Song for Rio

$2.49

Memorial

Style: Latin

Grade: 4

This piece features a Latin feel written out in the piano part.  The changes are pretty standard and move slowly enough for the student to navigate quite easily. The bridge of the tune is a fun release from all the harmonic movement in the beginning section of the composition.  The "Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio" recorded this composition on our "Panorama" CD which featured Valery Ponomarev on trumpet.

Memorial

$2.49

The Innocence of Spring

Style: Swing

Grade: 4

This medium swing tune consists of an extended melody and long form.  The harmonies are very chromatic and include some hybrid chordal structures as well.  The piece is challenging but worth the effort.  I recorded this on my "The Innocence of Spring" CD with saxophonist Don Aliquo.

The Innocence of Spring

$2.49

Kulturshock

Style: Swing

Grade: 5

This is a very adventurous composition. The harmonies are very difficult and the rhythms are quite unusual. A great challenge for the advanced player.  I wrote this piece shortly after moving from Brooklyn, NY to Memphis, TN.  That was quite a culture shock!!!

Kulturshock

$2.49

Four Wheeler

Style: Swing

Grade: 2

This composition is an open swing feel featuring a chromatic chord sequence and several polychords.  The changes move quickly making the piece difficult for the soloist to navigate. The melody is not difficult but overall the piece is challenging.  This is dedicated to the great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.

Four Wheeler

$2.49

The Beauty That We Are

Style: ballad
Grade: 2

This ballad is quite easy to play.  The changes move very slowly giving the student plenty of time to navigate the harmonic landscape.

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