Leni Stern is a traveler. Borders are not important, as she fits in effortlessly from place to place. The many languages of rhythm are her passports, her love of people fixes her destinations, and time marks her well-earned path. For over 25 years Stern has found motivation in the ever-changing world around her for the music that she plays, a sound that is equally transforming, malleable, fluid, and moving. Traveling. She came from Europe, put roots down in America, followed the winds to Africa, and her sights are always on the horizon.
It is unique to find a musician so proficient at their art form but who still admits to finding inspiration in the music and culture of the current events around them. Stern’s success as a jazz guitarist (awarded Gibson Guitar’s Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year Award five consecutive years) was no reason to rest on her laurels. Early on she led bands supported by heavyweights, the only ones who could support her big sound and strong melodies (Dennis Chambers, Bill Frisell, Michael Brecker, Paul Motian). As a former actress in Germany, Stern was no stranger to using her voice to connect with her audience. After 6 highly acclaimed instrumental albums Stern bravely chartered the vocal waters on her 1995 album “Words” with the first of many songs to come accompanied by her monster guitar chops.
The voice connects us to each other through words and imagery. With the ability to fluidly speak five languages, Stern found doors open to study the music of different countries and cultures, dipping her toes into an ocean of possibilities. India, Madagascar, Peru, Kenya, Mali and Senegal opened their doors to her as she opened her heart to them. Studying and working alongside some of the greatest musicians around the world (Zakir Hussain, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Ami, Sacko, Toumani Diabate) Stern developed her abilities into a vocabulary vast and unnamable. Was it jazz? Was it world? Was it folk? Was it rock? Did it matter?
In the most recent years Sterns lyrics have focused on the natural world, fascinated with the energy of the earth and of the water and the heavens. She sings of sorcerers and animal guides, serpents and tall trees, the depths of the oceans and always, always of love. She writes of the experience of her travels and the beauty of the people who have drawn her into their lives. Her musical family is large and always growing, just like the music she makes with them. Her groundbreaking 2007 album “Africa” drew from those deep family bonds as she introduced the world to her new connections in Mali. It was there that Stern truly found a spiritual home. Her next five albums would highlight those connections, with master musicians and a new musical voice spoken through the traditional African banjo, the n’goni, which Stern learned from world-renowned artist Bassekou Kouyate.
Stern was last recording in Mali during the 2012 coup d’état, an experience that shook her and left her heartbroken for her beloved adopted home. Instead of returning to work again in the unstable country, Stern’s American emigrant NYC bandmates Mamadou Ba and Alioune Faye accompanied her to their Senegalese homeland to record her latest album “Dakar Suite” (2016), featuring Faye’s family sabar percussion ensemble. The album is a celebration of sorts, a triumph of a life lived fully. It inspires dancing as well as quiet thought, and offers many glimpses into the travels that brought her to this point in her musical life. The trip is only just beginning for Leni Stern.
1983 With ongoing residencies (also for husband Mike Stern), establishes The 55 Bar as a timely and long-lasting jazz institution in NYC. In coming years would play alongside many greats, including Dennis Chambers, Tim Lefevre, Joey Baron, Keith Carlock, James Genus, Gil Goldstein, Bob Malik, Esperanza Spalding, Kenny Walleson, Bill Frisell, Adam Levy, Michael Formenak, Scott Colley, Jenny Scheinman, and Brian Blade.
1985 Releases first album as bandleader and composer “Clarivoyant” with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell
1990 Invited to perform and record with all-star group for “Just Friends: A Gathering in Tribute to Emily Remler Vol. 2,” featuring Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis
1997 Leni Stern Recordings(LSR) is established with the release of “Black Guitar”
2000 Commissioned to write a piece with full choir and orchestra at The International Composing Competition “2 Agosto”, Bologna, Italy
2001 Spends three months studying raga form in Mumbai, India and performs at Bombay Jazz Festival
2003 Featured as on-air host for BET network, covering Reykjavik Jazz Festival
2004 Opens for Steel Pulse for nine weeks of North American tours with bandmates Brannen Temple and Edwin Livingston
2005 Composes live accompaniment to silent film “The Goddess”
2006 First invitation to perform at Festival in the Desert, Timbuktu, Mali
2008 Lifted to stage from the audience and made to solo with a live performance by Salif Keita at Celebrate Brooklyn in NYC
2010 Performs at Carnegie Hall with Bassekou Kouyate and Ami Sacko
2012 International Tour with Acoustic Africa 3 as special featured guest
2013 Featured in documentary “Last Song Before the War” about the Festival in the Desert