Primary Instrument: Guitar
The show had already started and the sound came rushing up the stairs to meet me as I made my way to the basement of the Izzy Bar that night in '97. The sound, like Led Zeppelin on overdrive wearing a Stetson and armed with 21st Century calculus, made my hair stand on end. I'd been told by those who know that The Hermanators were probably the best band in the city and that their leader, Mitch Stein, was a New York guitar legend. Sure enough the room was packed, full of some of the finest improvising musicians anywhere, devoted fans and even a contingent of the beautiful people.
Over the course of the set they played with energetic hyper funk, raucous raging rock, hymnal beauty, twisted country and bemused blues underpinned by advanced harmony and intricate grooves all the while displaying incredible empathy between each other and a healthy dose of humor. I'd been Hermanated!
Mitch Moose Stein is a genuine NY guitar hero, born and raised in the mythic Gotham. Both his parents were musicians (mother a classical pianist and father a jazz trumpeter) but the first music that hooked him while still in kindergarten wasMeet the Beatles. The young Stein, drawn to the rhythm of rock 'n roll, started off on drums before switching to the guitar in the 6th grade. Shortly after, he started lessons with renowned studio musician Allen Hanlon whom Mitch says kicked my ass and made me take the guitar seriously!
As a teenager Moose loved listening to bands that stretched out and jammed a la The Allman Bros and then one day, while still a senior in high-school, a friend played him Coltrane. It was My Favorite Things live at Newport and it turned my head around! They were jamming but on a whole different planet!
Coltrane had opened up a whole new world for the nascent musician who subsequently found a great jazz teacher in Rich Boukas and immediately started soaking up as much jazz history as he could. The seeds were sown for his now rapid development into a world-class guitarist, capable of infusing all the modern styles together with a rare and organic ease. In 1982 legendary jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff gave Mitch his first major pro gig straight out of NYU.
Brother Jack has nurtured many renowned jazz guitarists including George Benson, Grant Green and Pat Martino and Mitch was to record two albums with him during his one-year tenure with the band. For the next few years he was gigging all over the place honing his jazz chops but his own identity lay elsewhere. I wanted to expand my palette of sounds and vocabulary and I started looking for other musical avenues to explore. Soon, Moose started hooking up with other like-minded musicians, most notably in a band led by drummer Victor Jones, and featuring saxophonist Alex Foster, vibraphonist Joe Locke and bassist Tom Barney. In 1989 Mitch joined Mino Cinelu's band who were essentially the house band at a now defunct club called Zanzibar. Unfortunately the band was never recorded but it is talked about to this day with awe by musicians in NY. In 1991 Mitch started playing with the brilliant Brazilian jazz pianist and singer, Tania Maria.
While working with Tania for over 8 years, Mitch joined forces with many incredible musicians including Don Alias, Anthony Jackson, Steve Gadd, Darryl Jones, Buddy Williams, Ricky Sebastian and Sergio Brandao. They went on to record 4 albums together. Another highlight from this period was touring the European jazz festival circuit with David Sanborn and playing the main stage at Montreaux Jazz on his birthday opposite the Al Jarreau All-Stars featuring Marcus Miller, Eric Gale and Steve Gadd. Moose also dipped his toes into the pop world playing with Cyndi Lauper, Jody Watley and Chaka Khan but the challenges of improvised music always held sway and in 1996 he joined forces with Adam Holzman's Brave New World and they toured not only the usual stops in western Europe but deep into the more mysterious eastern Europe only recently open after the fall of communism.
Another major milestone in Stein's career was in 2000 when he was asked to join the Don Alias All-Stars. The band was ridiculous!! I'll remember this tour for the rest of my life says Mitch and no wonder. There were 4 percussionists: Don Alias, Giovanni Hidalgo, Alex Acuna and Steve Berrios; Carlos Benavent on bass, Gill Goldstein on keys and arrangements and the Brecker Brothers on horns!! Subsequent tours with Randy Brecker, Bill Evans and the Brecker Brothers themselves only attest to the incredibly high degree of respect that Mitch is held in by his peers.
Then in 2001 Mitch joined the jam band based Steve Kimock Band alongside his Hermanators partner Rodney Holmes and bassist Alphonso Johnson and was introduced to a whole new audience who have fallen head over heels for his unique brand of guitar heroism and in turn opened up Mitch's eyes also. Playing our brand of instrumental rock/jazz/whatever around the states was an incredible experience! In a weird way, it was like going back to the beginning. The jam stuff that I loved back then but with the musicianship levels that we had all grown up into,a total blast!
A four-and-a-half-year stint with SKB leads us to the present but first we must return to 1992. I was frustrated with a local project that I had been working on that I called the Hermanators. I decided to change things around. The bass player, Kip Reed, brought in drummer Rodney Holmes and things clicked immediately! The chemistry between the 3 of us was special and Rodney's drumming was the perfect answer to everything! Older tunes that I'd written all of a sudden had new life and we started writing new music right away. Whenever touring schedules allowed, the Hermanators would play. The main thing I wanted to create was a Band! I could've called it The Mitch Stein Trio and booked gigs and gotten any other 2 guys to play but the atmosphere I wanted to foster was of a coherent band that whenever we took the stage, we killed. And that they did. In breathtaking fashion.
In 1999 they cut their debut album Twisted which still sounds as fresh and unique today as it did when it was recorded and documented the original line-up perfectly. Now after untold nights on the road and many new musical experiences Mitch is focusing on a solo CD. Most of the songs will be co-written with Josh Dion, an amazing drummer and solo artist in his own right. We met playing with Bill Evans Soulgrass and I loved his approach to the drums as well as songs in general! It's been inspiring to work with him on this new project! I'm sure I'm just one of many dedicated music fans who can't wait to hear the ever evolving genius of Mitch Stein, taking my place at the foot of the stage in hushed anticipation of having my mind blown.
Source: Aaron Whitby