Michael Jefry Stevens

Michael Jefry Stevens Trio

The trio format has been one of my most important vehicles for musical expression throughout the course of my five decades long career.  This is probably in no small part due to my love of the music of the Bill Evans Trio and also the Keith Jarrett “Standards” Trio.  My first important working trio was with “Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson”.  In the course of twenty years (1990 – 2010), we released six CDs and toured Europe and the United States numerous times.  During that same time period, I was also involved in the Sorgen-Rust-Stevens Trio.  This group was primarily an improvised recording project.  We released 3 CDs as a trio and a fourth CD entitled “Aercine” with the addition of Herb Robertson on trumpet and Mark Feldman on violin.  There have been other trio experiences, but these two were the primary early trio experiences that helped form much of who I now am as a musician. 

The above-mentioned groups were active while I was living in New York City.  In 2003 I left the New York and moved to Memphis, TN, where I met several musicians who have become an important part of my current musical life (Joyce Cobb, Brian “Breeze” Cayolle, Renardo Ward, Jonathan Wires and Don Aliquo come immediately to mind). 

The current chapter of my life begins with the move from Memphis to Black Mountain, NC.  When I moved to western North Carolina I had no idea how high the level of musicianship was in this area!  My current trio features Rick Dilling on drums and Zack Page on bass.  We have been playing together for the past 10 years and perform a repertoire of both standard jazz tunes and my original compositions. Look for an upcoming trio CD release featuring these talented musicians.

The members...

Michael Jefry Stevens Trio​

CD Releases

Click the album image to read its review

Featuring Michael J. Stevens on piano, Tim Ferguson on bass and Jeff Siegel on drums. Michael & Jeff have been playing together as a trio for some 15 years and have developed a solid chemistry.

For this studio date, the trio picked half standards and half original pieces by each member of the group. The title track opens and it is a Cole Porter song. I don’t recall Mr. Stevens covering standards very often, but the trio does a fine job of swinging in an uplifting way. “Jeepers Creepers”? Actually, it is also done in an elegant way with a fine bass solo up front.

Michael’s “The Last Embrace” even sounds like a standard, the melody quite lovely and a bit sad. I dig Tim’s “Momemtum” since it moves through a few different sections and has some unexpected twists. What is a bit surprising is that their bassist, Tim Ferguson, is at the center of each piece and gets quite a bit of solo space. Jeff’s “Stealth” is contemplative and has a majestic melody, played superbly by Mr. Stevens. 

What is also interesting is that without a score card, most wouldn’t know the standards from the originals, they both sound similar. A mature effort from a fine trio. 

– Bruce Gallanter Downtown Music Gallery

August 12, 2010 Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio – SIX: This is the sixth CD from this trio, & though it’s my first listen to them, I’ve been reviewing music from the pianist (Michael Jefry Stevens) a lot over the last couple of years.

The rest of the trio is bassist Tim Ferguson and drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel, and they do KICK, folks, I’ll tell you. Half of the tunes are covers & half are originals by the trio members… you have never heard as unique a rendition of Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser ” as they play… Michael’s keyboards are at full-tilt all the way through this track, & everyone else is right ON TIME, to be sure. I also greatly enjoyed the Stevens’ original “Song For Rio “, again featuring the piano and totally crisp recording that captures every little nuance from Jeff and Tim.

My favorite tune, though, was track 5, “The Fire”, penned by Tim… totally full of the kind of energy I cut my jazz teeth on, and a sense of movement that will make you want to get up and dance ’round the room for the joy of it all! 20 years of playing together have made this one of the tightest jazz trios you’ll ever hear, & I give them a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all jazz fans who want a taste of the best talent on the scene today. Their “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.97.

Dick Metcalf – CD Review: http://zzaj.freehostia.com/index.htm

Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Six Konnex KCD 5243 Fully-functioning Jazz piano trios involve a meeting of equals, so that all nuances of the performance are communicated. Nonetheless its very name attests that, intentionally or not, the keyboardist usually becomes first among equals, a situation that sometimes unbalances the performance. More democratic, the sixth CD since 1999 by the co-op trio of pianist Michael Jefrey Stevens, bassist Tim Ferguson and drummer Jeff “Siege” Sigel finds the three in a program that’s half standards and half originals composed by trio member. 

Although some of the new tunes impress, the band’s real skill is apparent when it rethinks and reshapes such hoary standards as “It Never Entered My Mind”, Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser”, and the country classic “Tennessee Waltz”. Such freedom with familiar fare should be expected, considering the band’s collective musical experience. Someone who teaches Jazz drumming at the State University of New York at New Paltz and Western Connecticut State University, Siegel was a member of mainstream pianist Sir Roland Hanna’s trio from 1994-1999 and has worked with players ranging from tenor saxophonist Benny Golson to brass man Wadada Leo Smith. Besides authoring books on playing Jazz bass and teaching, Ferguson has played music for TV and films, been in Broadway pit orchestras and in ensembles as different as The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and pianist Don Friedman’s groups. 

Best-known for his decades-long partnership with bassist Joe Fonda, Stevens, now based in Asheville, N.C., unites with German reedist Gebhard Ullman and Fonda in Conference Call and has recorded a clutch of CDs as leader. You can glimpse Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson’s particular skill by noting how they handle “Tennessee Waltz”. Subtly rhythmic and banishing any thought of Patti Page, theme development is often communicated through the bassist. “My Baby Don’t Care for Me” gets a similar treatment, with initial stops and thumps from Ferguson presaging Stevens’ swinging runs which build up to a crescendo, elaborated still further by the bassist and some bouncing flams from Siege and ends with a multiphonic key explosion by all. 

Treating the Monk tune in a distinctive non-Monkish fashion, Stevens scatters and skitters lines with a multi-fingered attack that’s made even more energetic by Ferguson’s string popping. When the theme is recapped it comes out even speedier. Completely opposite – and unlike more overtly serious tunes Stevens for one has composed elsewhere – Six’s originals are very much what one would expect from a conventional piano trio. The pianist’s “Song for Rio” for example, is a calm bossa nova featuring Siegel smacking rim shots and the composer moving from exposed arpeggios to strumming chords and key clicks. 

Designed to show off its composer’s muscular double-stopping and sul tasto slides, Ferguson’s “Green Room” has a melody that sounds instantly familiar. Intriguingly inventive here, Stevens evolves a low-frequency fantasia as he spins out theme variation upon theme variation and ends with a dramatic denouncement. Meanwhile the drummer’s “Remembering Shirley”, the CD’s final track, is a prototypical set-closer. A semi-blues it leads Stevens to staccato syncopation, Ferguson to steadying pumps and Siegel to expressive drum pops. Still there are enough slithering blues notes and quivering slides from the pianist to suggest parodic exaggeration. A highly professional take on the classic piano trio, Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson’s disc will satisfy anyone interested in that genre, while gently challenging them as well. 

–Ken Waxman

These guys cover a lot of ground; you can tell by looking at the selections. The first three are the jazz perennial “On Green Dolphin Street”, the ancient warhorse “A Bicycle Built for Two”, and Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing”. (This was covered by John Coltrane, who is also represented here.) With confidence and a varied technique, they march on, aiming to state the old in a new way. Their aim is true.

“Green Dolphin” starts faster than normal, with a heavy left hand and the melody stated softly, almost as an afterthought. The cymbals slash, and Michael Stevens gets some funky licks in. Tim Ferguson’s bass is in the Scott LaFaro “big guitar” mode, a departure from his normal deep sound. “Bicycle” is slow and gentle, almost in George Winston territory. Along the path are some odd chords and sour notes, putting the bicycle in the 20th Century. The notes describe it as “wistful”, and I will not argue. Stevens’ approach, and Siegel’s drumwork, remind you of the Bill Evans trio. Some bleeps near the end might be the bell, as the bicycle drives away.

“The Blessing” (perhaps Ornette’s most conventional tune) is treated like the bop tune it sounds like. Ferguson is back to his old-school tone; in his varied use of the kit, Siegel sounds like Shelly Manne did in the ‘Fifties. Stevens gets dissonant near the end, resolving into smooth chords and the theme. The rapid changing of spots is welcome in this song – and this group; it’s one of their great skills.

“Threads” is a burner by Siegel; tons of drums and a very bluesy Stevens. He normally does this a few bars at a time; given a whole song to go blue, Stevens glows. Siegel’s solo rotates the kit – the first section is cymbals, then snares, tom-toms, and a little bit of everything. A mournful bass opens “Morning Song”, and the cheery piano dispels the night of the bass. This almost sounds like classical music, and a great example of sound painting a picture. As it progresses, Stevens gets more lush, and the sun keeps rising. A neat Stevens arrangement makes “Yesterdays” sound like “Giant Steps”! We then get a major solo from Siegel, a pensive Ferguson, and gentle chords from Stevens. Stevens’ own solo is lyrical, with the little sourballs he likes throwing in. Another turn from Siegel, and we are back in Coltrane country, which prepares us for “After the Rain”.

Ferguson strums a chord as Stevens gets tender. The bass soars, the drums sparkle. And Stevens comes on in a great crash of sound -–not Tyner level, but still impressive. He then gets active, with lots of little phrases played very fast – Cecil Taylor. Siegel responds with pure thunder, and Stevens ends with little tinkles which I guess are the last of the raindrops.

And still the moods change. “Almost a Rhythm Tune” is a forceful strutter, with high-stepping drums and ferocious bass. (As you’d expect, it’s sort of based on “I Got Rhythm”.) Stevens is loud and depressed, ringing the off-center notes as he goes. “Sir Roland” is Siegel’s tribute to his employer. It’s based on “A Night in Tunisia” and Stevens becomes the funk merchant, dropping juicy chords everywhere. Ferguson is the solid bottom and Siegel goes wild. “Astor’s Place” is an ominous tango, with bowed parts from Ferguson (in places he sounds like a baritone sax!) Stevens is warm, showing chords between clipped single notes. And “Angel Eyes” gives us Latin rhythm and edgy piano. Stevens is lonely and depressed as night grows darker. The blues get stronger and so does the rhythm. Stevens gets real lush before the theme resumes and the loveliness returns. Alas, not for long; for that you need to hit the repeat button.

This takes the promise of the trio’s One of a Kind album and moves it further. The tunes are varied, the interplay is tremendous, and the performances are excellent. For anyone who thinks a piano trio can’t surprise them.

All About Jazz Staff

The new album “Triologue” (Imaginary Records) could have possibly made the jazz trio a major discovery for the new century. The group’s fourth album contains material that’s enticing and vastly entertaining. With the simple assembly of piano, bass and drums, Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson shows that they’re ready for the big time. The cooperative group has no leader; they equally share the billing and the money, I would assume. Pianist Michael Jefry Stevens has worked with such name entertainers as Dakota Staton, Cecil Bridgewater and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Stevens also works in a quintet, the Fonda/Stevens Group. Bassist Tim Ferguson has worked with varied performers, including the George Cables Trio, Mel Lewis, and Eddie Harris. He also toured as part of the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, led by Buddy Morrow. Rounding out the trio is Jeff “Siege” Siegel on drums. He’s been playing with the Roland Hanna Trio since 1994. Many of the biggest names in jazz have given Siegel a chance to perform. “Triologue” contains a varied and enticing list of songs. The album opens with the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, “Some Enchanted Evening.” Ferguson’s composition, “Vernazza,” receives a spectacular rendition. Billy Strayhorn’s “Bloodcount” comes as a welcome surprise for discerning jazz ears. Listeners who go for the trio sound should love every minute of “Triologue”.

Bob Powers, G21 World Magazine

The piano trio has been a staple of jazz forever, and one would think all the approaches have been found. Regardless of who the “leader” is, the trio’s sound is almost always led by the personality of the pianist. If I mention “simultaneous improvisation”, you will likely think of Bill Evans-type introspection. This group belongs in neither category. You get plenty of interplay, but you also get the straightforward charge of the traditional trio. It’s a refreshing sound – one of a kind? Well, I’ve never heard it before…

The title tune opens with Michael Stevens, playing the strong riff with his left hand. You know it’s something different when the backing chords come from the right hand! Come the tune proper, the right hand resumes its typical primacy, and Tim Ferguson picks up the riff dropped by the piano. Jeff Siegel’s drums are light and hyperactive, and he doesn’t skimp on the cymbals. He reminds you of Elvin Jones, while Stevens evades classification. While pounding the riff, Stevens is apt to add chords or a note to make you go “What?” While this is happening, Siegel picks up the volume, and his part doesn’t seem to go with the time. (It’s not as “timeless” as Joe Morello’s solo on “Take Five”, but it is a surprise.) While remaining in the parameters, the group has done something startling. In five minutes, they manage to stand apart from the other trios you’ve heard.

“Waltz for Zweetie” shows the group in the familiar Bill Evans mold. It’s one long bass solo, and Ferguson sings as he plucks it, partly with the old-fashioned fat sound and partly with the LaFaro “guitar” style. Stevens is soft for most of this; on his solo he steps out, and we hear a little blues, a smidgen of Tyner intensity, and what sounds like a quote of “Spartacus”. Then all is sedate, and Siegel’s brushes work overtime as the last of the tinkles fade away.

“The Moffett Family” is a grand old blues, but it’s 16 bars long, and in 6/8! The full chords ring, and Siegel clicks strongly. Stevens’ solo goes into double time, with percussive slams on the uppermost keys. All goes quiet as Ferguson goes deep: the tones are round and full of that “wood” sound. The clock ticks off “Caravan”, and Stevens gives the theme, playing it with both hands at once. Siegel begins to get complex; Stevens chords on the bridge. Ferguson’s deep solo is mostly obscured by Siegel’s frenzy. Stevens has a brief solo, and returns to the theme in a long fadeout, when we hear the caravan go off into the sunset.

Stevens’ “Jazz Tune” is a funky thing, a 12-bar almost-blues. (The structure is A-B-C, for those who care about such things.) Stevens gets lush on the exchanges; Siegel starts simple and builds, as is his wont. Siegel’s “Habitat” is a tender 6/8, with exotic cymbals. Stevens starts subdued, and goes through some crazy mood swings. Romantic leads to bluesy leads to lush, and then to quietude. Stevens then THINKS his comping for Ferguson’s solo (that’s what it sounds like; you can barely hear it!) Siegel is more active on this set of exchanges, and this one closes as intensity INCREASES – a nice touch.

“I Fall in Love Too Easily” begins with lovely high notes and becomes a typical Evans ballad. He fiddles a bit with a loping phrase, and is tender as anything (there also a near-quote of “Django”.) “Sunrise in Mexico” sets up a tough bass riff, and a quavering piano to show an ominous climate. Stevens sounds nervous, darting to and fro, even using some Vince Guaraldi chords! Siegel’s “Lenny” is a tender samba; Stevens begins his solo with slides, then plays with a series of patterns, lastly ending in thick chords as the left hand answers back. It’s friendly and distinctive – like the trio itself.

All About Jazz Staff

Pianist/composer Michael Jefry Stevens has been an international force in creative improvised music for more than 35 years with 58CDs and over 400 compositions to his credit. 

His projects have involved him in a variety of settings. 2008 found Stevens recording with a number of small groups: Eastern Boundary Quartet – including two noted Hungarian players, Conference Call – representing a ten-year collaboration with German woodwind master Gerhard Ullman, the Memphis-based Southern Excursion Quartet and the Michael Jefry Stevens Trio. 

The trio’s CD, For Andrew, is dedicated to pianist/composer Andrew Hill, one of Stevens’ major influences. Hill passed away in April 2007.This studio session, although recorded in 1996, isas new as today. Stevens, Siegel and Herbert are not your basic mainstream piano trio. They prove that freedom and interaction are compatible and bring improvisation to the level of on-the-spot composition with their performance of two standards, “Nardis” and “Lazy Afternoon.” On Miles’ “Nardis” the listener is taken on a long and innovative journey to the familiar theme. “Lazy Afternoon” opens with Siegel’s soft percussion.

Herbert enters on bass. Then we hear the opening phrase, “it’s-a-lazy-afternoon,” which underlies an exploration of sound and space guided by Stevens’ harmonic sense, crisp touch, well-placed chords and clusters of notes. Stevens’ compositions conjure up many moods. “The Lockout” is a blues with an air of mystery. There’s calm in the lyrical “Spirit Song” and darkness in “Specific Gravity.” “Waltz” contains some hand-in-glove exchanges between piano and bass. It and “Lazy Waltz” are a long way from conventional one-two-three. Seigel’s drums add to the intensity of “Parallel Lines” and the closer, “The River Po” showcases Herbert’s bowed bass. Stevens believes that “For me music is first and foremost an expression of beauty…There is beauty in a triad and there is a different but no less exotic beauty in a dissonant interval or sound. 

Along with the expression of beauty I am trying to express my heartfelt emotions at the moment. “It’s not easy to write about beauty. I thought so in 2002 when reviewing Andrew Hill’s A Beautiful Day. The words I used then seem appropriate now for Stevens’ For Andrew : “His music is not meant to be inspected, dissected and analyzed but to be felt. It will involve you emotionally. “Enjoy. Tracks: Nardis, Spirit Song, Waltz, Specific Gravity, Lazy Afternoon, Parallel Lines, Lazy Waltz, The Lockout, The River

Record Label Website: http://www.konnexrecords.deArtist’s Website:http://www.michaeljefrystevens.comReviewed by: Bill Falconer

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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