Stryker’s Eight Track II Provides Portal to Groovy Past


Dave Stryker’s new album, Eight Track II, is due out Sept. 2 on Strikezone Records.

(Photo: Chris Drukker)

Dave Stryker is a dedicated jazz guitarist who has just released an album of interpretations of pop and r&b music from 1967 to 1984. The album, Eight Track II, is a sequel to his successful 2014 disc, Eight Track (both on his Strikezone label). It’s due out Sept. 2.

Full of familiar songs such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” it is far from a “cover record.” Rather, it’s a creative and fresh jazz reworking of the chosen pieces. Stryker recorded the album with his working ensemble—organist Jared Gold and drummer McClenty Hunter—with the addition of guest vibraphonist Steve Nelson.

Aside from being a touring and recording artist, Stryker is committed to jazz education. He has been on the faculty of the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops in Louisville, Kentucky, for many years. He also teaches at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and Montclair State University, in Montclair, New Jersey.

Stryker, 59, is quick to acknowledge the importance of his early days playing in the bands of organist Brother Jack McDuff and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. But before he was a professional musician, he was a young boy learning to play guitar by listening to The Beatles records his older sister brought home.

Stryker spoke to DownBeat over the phone about his new release and his approach to jazz education.

What were you doing before you started with Brother Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine?

My first exposure to guitar was The Beatles, like a lot of guys of my generation. At an early age, I started gigging and having bands—there are some pretty hilarious photos of me—then I got into hard rock. The first record I bought was Cream’s Disraeli Gears. Then I started getting into Santana and the Allman Brothers Band—more jazzy. I started going to jazz jam sessions. My friend and I started playing on Tuesday nights at the local jazz jam.

I went to the Aebersold Workshop when he brought it to Wichita around 1977. I remember Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw and Jerry Hahn were there, and they were very inspiring. By the time I was 19 or 20, I was listening to Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green—all these guys. I was really trying to find the jazz buff in me—Wes, George Benson, all the greats, Jim Hall, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine, Coltrane, McCoy Tyner—buying all the records, going to the record store.

So some of your early education was buying the music, listening to it and transcribing it to figure what was going on. Was that a valuable experience?

You know, transcribing, it’s an old tradition. That was “jazz education,” that’s how everybody learned.

Did you study music in college?

I didn’t really go to college. I was just gigging from an early age. When I was [about] 20, I moved out to Los Angeles for a couple of years. Jimmy Smith had a club in L.A. called Jimmy Smith’s Supper Club. Jack McDuff, Cedar Walton, all these great guys would come through there. But as for the education thing, I was not too much from the school system, which is kind of ironic, since I am now teaching music at the universities and workshops, like Aebersold.

After coming up on the bandstand, how did you start teaching?

I use to travel in a group with Steve Slagle, and we’d always go to Louisville. I remember Jamey Aebersold brought us to play there in a comedy club. So he’d followed my career since he saw me at a young age. Jamey asked if I want to teach at his workshop. I kind of eased into teaching through those workshops. I’d already been doing some private teaching. Then guys like Pat Harbison, Tom Walsh and David Baker offered me an opening at Indiana University. This is my fourth year there.

In addition to technique, what elements of musicality do you stress in your instruction?

The hardest thing to teach is to have a good feel for time. Because when people hear you play, the first thing they hear is your sound, your tone, and then your time-feel—and that’s all before you even get to the harmony or the notes. It’s very hard to teach a time-feel. I think the way I learned was from playing gigs and listening to the greats and how they phrased, like Miles, Trane, George Benson, Pat Martino, Wes—how Stanley and those guys phrased a melody. So I try to work on things like that and transcribe those guys. That’s a big part of my teaching. I enjoy helping students find their own voice.

I was lucky to be one of the final generations to play with the best, like McDuff and Turrentine. That kind of experience is important to pass on, some of that rubbed off on me.

So, let’s talk about Eight Track II. You’re not doing, say, Ernie Isley or Eric Clapton guitar parts. It definitely sounds like a “jazz” album.

[The title] Eight Track brings back a certain time period. I had a buddy with an 8-track recorder, so we’d make mix tapes before there was a word for it. I’d put everything from In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew and Kind Of Blue on one tape. It all came together for me, Santana and Pat Martino on the same tape. The idea was to take the music, the melodies, and put my own spin on them …. That’s the challenge.

How did you select the songs to play on these projects? For example, why choose Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” rather than “White Room”?

“Sunshine Of Your Love” is basically a blues. Playing in this group with the organ, that’s kind of the meat and potatoes of the organ records, that shuffle blues that McDuff and Turrentine would do. So I took “Sunshine,” which was already in a blues form, and took some liberties while still leaving the melody intact. For “What’s Going On,” we came up with our own arrangement, while “Trouble Man” is already such a nice groove—we just put our thing on it.

Also what’s cool about this project is working with vibes. The precedent for the vibes was Grant Green’s Street Of Dreams, with Bobby Hutcherson, Larry Young and Elvin Jones. I always dug that. I love arranging things in my own way, figuring out different ways of approaching the music rhythmically.

Why did you decide to set up your own label? And what else are you working on?

I decided it was time to take control. Having your own label makes you learn more. I’m also working with other artists, including [vocalist] Rachel Caswell. I produced singer Rondi Charleston’s upcoming album. It’s good to have control and document my music. Hopefully, it will lead to more gigs.

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