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The Guitar Hero Series: Steve Herberman
Written by Ava

The Guitar Hero series on Jemsite features interviews with guitarists and musicians who may not have star status YET, but their current situations have shaped them to be who they are--determined, fond of their craft, and heroes in their own right. Perhaps you'll see in these upcoming entries the next Jimi Hendrix, Melissa Etheridge, or Duane Allman. Or perhaps they'll become household names by doing what they do best--ripping a mean riff!

Another jazz guitarist in our midst. But not just any jazz guitarist. Steve Herberman is something special because he has a passion for his craft---and more then just that--he loves teaching it to others too! But it's even more then for Steve. He loves the little things about being a musician--the breaths taken, sharing it with a band and his fan, the chance to bring a new sound to a whole new audience, and the opportunity to continue doing what he loves.

What more can one ask for? And that's why he's our next Guitar Hero!

Did you initially study jazz guitar or was that something you fell into after studying classical and/or electric?

I started playing rock guitar on an electric after a brief stint with the classical guitar only not playing classical music on it. It was the Beatles, Deep Purple, and Eagles, when I started playing at around 11 years old.

How did the Berklee College of Music help you or influence you?

It gave me something to set my sights on as a sophomore in high school. I made up my mind that it was the place for me and when I got there I was very happy to be there. Berklee helped me get away from thinking about only the guitar. Though I was into jazz by then and listening to players on many instruments Berklee put me into contact with fellow students who played other instruments. Luckily I was the only guitarist in most of those groups so I had to learn from everyone in the band and focus on fitting in with all of these players When I first started there I wanted to sound like a tenor saxophonist.

You adopted the seven-string guitar in 1993? Tell me about that.

When I was in my last year at Berklee I became obsessed with learning George Van Eps' harmonic system on the guitar. To do it right I needed to play fingerstyle which was fairly new to me at that time. Most jazz guitarists play with a pick so I began listening to Van Eps and Lenny Breau. Both fingerstyle players and both 7 stringers though Lenny Breau utilized an extra high string as opposed to the extra low staring Van Eps used. I tried both but liked the sound and feel of the low string better. Also Van Eps' system seemed to work better with the low string which I tune to the note A natural. I graduated Berklee in 1988 and it took me about 5 years to digest the material in the Van Eps books before realizing I needed the 7 string to really get the most from his approach. Interestingly his books called 'Harmonic Mechanisms For Guitar' Vol.1-3 are written for the 6 string guitar.

What is it about jazz guitar and jazz music that moves you?

First it is the connection I feel when playing the instrument having the instrument resonating against my body.

I played solid bodies for years but the archtop and acoustic guitars help me feel more connected to what I'm playing somehow. I love the nuances in tone and phrasing that are possible on the guitar and jazz artists and listeners seems to put that in high regard too. In other words, someone doesn't need to play fast or flashy to be appreciated in the jazz genre and that works well for me. I appreciate the subtleties, in any style of music. Horn players have their breath going through their instrument so for guitarists they need to think about breathing on their guitar which would might mean singing while they play to phrase more naturally capturing a human quality in their solos. It's too easy on the guitar to never stop playing, leaving no space! I really love the space and many styles of jazz embrace the spaces. Hearing a player pour out their soul in interpreting a melody or playing a solo is what drew me in to jazz. Fortunately that is present in any good music regardless of style.

How, if at all, does DC influence your jazz music?

DC has probably more jazz musicians than any other city in US. This is probably because the top 4 military jazz groups in the country are based here and each band has 20 or more players most of them jazz players. So right there I'm influenced because I can always play with the top players no matter how busy people are. There are just so many good ones to call.

Another way I think DC influences me is the jazz history that is present here. Duke Ellington was from DC, John Malachi and Charlie Rouse to name a few. Billie Holiday was from Baltimore near where I teach. Because of the great music made here over such a long time there are institutions that are in place that help jazz thrive in DC. Some of those are the Smithsonian, Kennedy Center, HR 57, several universities with jazz programs, and a jazz radio station like WPFW not to mention clubs which come and go, but that is the nature of jazz in almost any town.

Where are the best places in Washington DC to hear great guitar players (in any genre)?

Currently things are not what they used to be in that regard. We used to have the Jazz Café in the Smithsonian that had jazz guitarists almost every week. That is presently on hold so a couple of other places have stepped in. The Madison Hotel features some jazz guitarists from all over the US, sometimes Blues Alley has jazz guitar, as well as An Die Music in Baltimore and 49 West in Annapolis. Hopefully another venue will pop up.

What are your musical and guitar influences in jazz and otherwise?

My main influences starting with guitarists are: Wes Montgomery , Jim Hall, Lenny Breau, George Van Eps, and Joe Pass. I also appreciate good rock, classical and blues guitarists. Charlie Parker is a big influence mostly for phrasing and JS Bach for everything!

Why teach guitar when you can perform?

I need to do both to be happy. My feeling is that they each help each other. For one thing when I teach the guitar is in my hands all day long which it wouldn't be otherwise. Teaching helps my conception of music crystallize better examining things in greater detail, giving them more thought. Sometimes students ask me questions that I need to reflect upon and in some cases do some homework of my own to better help them achieve their goals. Plus there is the financial side. As players we need to teach in order to sustain a living thus the joke " I teach to subsidize my jazz playing career."

Tell me about the CDs you've put out already.

I have 3 CD's that I've released on my own label Reach Music. Thoughtlines (2001) is a quartet guitar, bass, drums and saxophone. Action:Reaction 2006 a guitar trio: guitar, bass, drums. And my recent release is Ideals 2008 another guitar trio: guitar, bass, drums.

Action:Reaction which consists of all my own compositions with the great bassist Drew Gress and terrific young drummer Mark Ferber was listed as a top CD of 2007 by Jazz Improv magazine. Ideals hit the top 10 of the national jazz charts and styed on the charts for 17 weeks. For a guitar trio CD I think that is pretty good. I prefer playing in smaller groups and even plan on releasing a solo album at some point.

Is there something you think you can present in instructional material that you can't in a class or vice versa?

I can cover more ground in a text essentially giving someone years of study. My online masterclasses that I've done have written material that accompany each class usually from 10-20 pages of material for each 90 minute class. So far I've done 24 of these online classes for Mike's Master Classes. One of the things I like about the online masterclasses is that they are very focused and I prepare for them sometimes in excess of a month. The student gets a video recording of the class to watch as many times as they want or need. Another benefit of the online classes or masterclasses I do at schools is that the students can interact and ask questions and perform for each other and for me. Obviously that can't be done with a book that someone purchases unless they supplement with lessons.

What are your future plans?

Just to continue doing what I'm doing, performing, recording and teaching balancing all of that with family life. I'd like to tour more and am in the process of trying to work out ways for me to do that more regularly. I'm blessed that I can do what I love. Sharing that joy with others is what it's all about for me.
 
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