Funk infused contemporary jazz.
Fresh off his fifth studio album, Love City, guitarist David P. Stevens is becoming a recognized name in contemporary jazz. Having shared the stage with such notable acts as Epiphone's own Nick Colionne, Gerald Albright, Najee, Brian Simpson and more, Stevens is watching his brand of funk infused contemporary jazz climb up the Billboard charts. Epiphone.com recently caught up with David between a heavy tour schedule, producing projects for other artists and recording his new album.
How old were you when you started playing guitar and who or what inspired you to pick it up?
I was about 12 years old. There was this really cool guitar player from my church named Darryl Johnson who was a session guitarist in Philadelphia. He introduced me to guitarists like George Benson, Mike Stern, Paul Jackson Jr., Hiram Bullock, and many more! Through that I quickly became attached to George Benson's style of playing and later discovered Norman Brown. It was Norman's infectious contemporary style that became the catalyst for me wanting to be a contemporary jazz guitarist.
Did you grow up playing in church?
Yes, my father is a pastor and I spent much of my time in church, playing, practicing, and developing.
I'm guessing that was the foundation for you becoming a multi-instrumentalist. How has playing other instruments influenced your approach to playing guitar?
Playing other instruments has helped me understand where the guitar fits within a song. I've been around some guitar players who just want to play loud or play a lot of notes. By nature, we want to be heard and stand out but that has a negative effect when we try to do too much. I used to be that loud guitar player. (Laughs) But as I've become a more seasoned performer I've learned how to stay out of the way when it's appropriate. Even as a front man, space is necessary to let a song breathe and allow other instruments to show their "colors" without the audience experiencing ear fatigue.
What was the Philadelphia music scene like when you were growing up? Did any of the phenomenal pop artists from there influence you?
Philly was brimming with musical excitement when I was growing up! There were huge jam sessions almost every weekend, concerts, jazz clubs, always a studio recording session. It was an exciting time for me! I was influenced a lot by the old Philly International music. Artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Blue Magic, the Ojays, etc. That music influenced a lot of Philadelphia. It was music that everyone here had pride in, from youngest to oldest. It sparked an excitement and the neo-soul movement was born from that.
When did you realize that Contemporary Jazz was your "thing"... the direction you wanted to go?
I realized early on that I loved jazz and I also loved the groove of R&B and Soul music. To me, contemporary jazz was the best platform to fuse those two styles together.
I've been seeing you a lot lately with an Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop PRO. What is it you like about your Epiphone Les Paul?
I am a tone snob and I have been searching for the guitar that fits me. I have huge bass player fingers and I'm a big burly guy. I don't have a light touch. I play hard. I groove hard. I needed a guitar that could handle the beatings. (Laughs) When I finally picked up an Epiphone Les Paul, I immediately fell in love. The tone is thick and warm, not twangy. I go between rock and soft jazz tones during my set and this guitar does it effortlessly!
How is it holding up for you?
I'm the type of guitar player that will tweak myself insane to get everything 100% the way I want it. But I don't have to do anything but plug and play with this guitar. And the intonation is great!
As a seasoned, professional player, what do you do to keep your chops razor sharp and push yourself to take your playing even further?
Right now I'm listening to a lot of sax players. Learning to play through changes is something they are trained to do while guitar players tend to pick a key and stick to it. I'm trying to understand how saxophone players approach their solos and apply that to my guitar playing.
I listen to other artists constantly. Even music that I don't particularly like has musical value that I can learn from. I never want to get to a place where I feel like I've arrived. I'm constantly learning, studying, watching and soaking it all in.
What is your process for writing instrumental music? Where do the ideas come from and how do you get ideas down to a workable demo?
Instrumental music is so cool. It tells a story without words. I tend to write what I feel and then put it into a format that is most relevant. Sometimes I start with a melody, and many times I start with a groove. Other times I just sit in the studio and let ideas flow. I also use my phone a lot. It's currently filled with melody lines, chords and transition ideas.
Speaking of studios, where was your latest album Love City recorded?
I own a recording studio and small live venue in Philly called SanctiFLY Studios. It's becoming a happening spot. I recorded Love City there with a combination of digital and analog technology. I performed many of the instruments and vocals but I brought in a bunch of talented musicians to enhance everything. Featured on this album are legends like Najee, Frank McComb, Pamela Williams, and other amazing artists like Selina Albright (Gerald Albright's daughter), Lin Rountree, Jackiem Joyner and Tracey Preston.
The album is doing quite well! Congratulations on your strong showing on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Charts. What do you have happening this winter and into 2018?
Thank you! I'm currently in the studio writing and working on new music. This next album explores some different types of jazz and soul and I'm experimenting more with effects. Touring continues in 2018. I've had a heavy touring season this year and look forward to continuing with that in 2018. Check out www.davidstevensmusic.com for the latest dates.
Connect with David P. Stevens.