The Mike Stephens Project will perform at the African American Cultural Festival on Saturday, July 26 at Market Square. Mike Stevens was able to talk about his band and his various influences. More information on the band can be found at www.msp-jazz.com
Hello, I'm Mike Stephens, originally from Philadelphia, however, I've lived in Southern Maryland since 1979.
<b>How did you get your start in music and if applicable how did you form the group?</b>
I started playing saxophone back in elementary school. Philly had all sorts of free music programs back in the early 70's. I participated in the All-Philadelphia Band and Orchestra; performed in school and local R&B bands. While on active duty in the Air Force, I participated in base-level and Air Force wide talent competitions, etc. As I made the DC area my home, I sought other musicians to perform with and form alliances. The Mike Stephens Project has been together since 1989, when we first performed for then newly elected Lt. Gov. Douglas Wilder.
<b>How long have you been performing? </b>
In all, I've been performing for about 35 years.
<b>What is it that you love about performing?</b>
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing and feeling the excitement generated in others when we perform. My intent is to connect spiritually with the audience through my music. People will let you know when you've touched their hearts and that's when I know that I have been truly blessed.
<b>What is your best memory when it comes to music?</b>
My best memory is opening a show for Grover Washington Jr. at the Carter Baron in D.C. He had been my idol ever since I was 15 years old. He came out from behind the stage when I was soloing and let the audience know that he was impressed with my playing - that was enough for me! I will never forget talking with him and having him share his thoughts with me. I was deeply saddened when he passed.
<b>Where is your favorite place to play, either publicly or personally?</b>
Honestly, my favorite place to play is in church. I have been told that my music has an anointing. I don't know if it really does or not, but if I can touch someone’s heart with my playing and uplift them, then I'm doing what I believe God has for me to do.
<b>Best compliment about a performance?</b>
My best compliment came from Grover Washington's wife, Christine. Prior to my opening for Grover, she heard some of my music playing and had commented to someone that she didn't know Grover was working on some new material. When that got back to me, I was on "Cloud 9".
<b>What is your favorite piece of music and why?</b>
"TuTu," by Miles Davis. To me, it exudes what I try to exemplify - color, drive, and energy.
<b>Who would you love to play with? Why?</b>
My dream band would consist of George Duke on keyboards, Marcus Miller on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, and Al DiMeola on guitar. The energy would be just phenomenal! Heck, I'd play for free just to be in their midst.
<b>Describe your sound: </b>
My sound has changed over the years. Initially, I was a Grover Washington clone. However, I combined some the stylings and phrases of Grover Washington, Gerald Albright, and perhaps Kirk Whalum. In all, my focus has been on developing and projecting a clear and soulful tone. So rather than flashy riffs you'll hear more colorful and melodic phrasing in my music.
<b>Biggest musical influences</b>
Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Grover Washington Jr, Gerald Albright, Ronnie Laws, Najee, and Kirk Whalum.
<b>Other influences: </b>
My dad for first introducing me to jazz music; Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Jeff Lorber, George Duke and Stanley Clarke.
<b>Where have you toured? </b>
The Azores Islands, and most of the continental United States.
<b>Anything special about the upcoming show?</b>
The African Heritage Cultural Festival is the first show that we'll be headlining, so that's REAL SPECIAL to us!!!
<b> Future plans: </b>
Folks have been asking about new music, so I'm hoping to get back in the studio this fall.
<b>Would you like to add anything?</b.
Never give up the dream...... More information about us can be found at <a href=http://www.msp-jazz.com> www.msp-jazz.com</a> and <a href=http://www.myspace.com/themikestephensproject> www.myspace.com/themikestephensproject</a>.