If you’ve been to the Berks Jazz Festival, and attended any of the Midnight Jam Sessions, you may be familiar with guitarist David P. Stevens. He recently released his latest project, Epiphany and is interviewing and touring to support it. Smoothviews had a chance to catch up with DPS and chat about his music.
Smoothviews (SV): Before we get into discussing your music, I’d like you to comment on George Duke, who we just lost a few weeks ago. Can you tell us, as a musician, what he meant to you? We were shocked; I think a lot of people were taken by surprise hearing the news of his passing.
David P. Stevens (DPS): George Duke for me was an unofficial mentor. I never met him, but from his music, I kind of honed my own writing and production style. Because he always had, his albums were full of different kinds of colors. They weren’t necessarily one thing. You couldn’t say, ‘Oh George is straight ahead, or George is classical, or George is jazz.’ He mixed everything, all of his influences in together, and it still made for a really good solid album. I think I have taken that approach in my career as well. He is sorely missed. I’m not an emotional person at all, but I think I cried when I found out [he died.] It was really touching.
SV: That was a shock, but I guess everybody said about he and his wife, there was such a oneness between them that she wasn’t gone long before he followed. That seems to happen fairly often for couples who have been together for a long time.
DPS: Definitely. I often think about. That’s another thing too, just seeing the fact that he was so close to his wife was a good testament for a lot of marriages. It shows that musicians can still do their craft and still be in love, and be dedicated to their wives. I took that on as well.
SV: Okay. So I want to talk about the music. I want people to get to know you a little better. I was introduced to you and your music through the Midnight Jam Sessions at the Berks Jazz Festival. That was where I heard you play a few years ago, for the first time. You’re a regular there. If you could give our readers an idea of who you are musically, because a lot of them are just discovering you through your latest album, Epiphany. It’s been getting good recognition and you’re touring to support it.
DPS: Musically, some of my biggest influences are George Benson and Norman Brown. On the rock side, Mike Stern and Larry Carlton, people like that. With my own sound, I try to mix in a bunch of different influences to make one sound. I don’t think I consciously do it. I think that all the players that I grew up listening to and studying comes out in my playing, which kind of creates my own style. I also try to make it something that’s exciting for all different walks of life. It’s not just for people who love jazz, it’s not just for people who love rock; there’s a little something for everyone.
SV: And I do get that because at one point, you busted out in rock mode towards the end of the show. I think there are a lot of guitar players out there with that rock side sitting just below the surface. You all bring it out from time to time. That’s cool. It worked well because it showed a different side of you, another part of who you are as a musician. You’re not just playing one type of music. This leads me to my next question. I read on your website that after you graduated college you went to Nashville. Does that mean you were involved in the country music genre as well?
DPS: No, I didn’t do country. At the time, Nashville was a big hub for Gospel and Contemporary Christian music. I went out there to try and do music full time. It was really interesting because it was a whole different mentality, a whole different kind of musician. I got to learn a lot of different things. On the production end, I was introduced to a more of a commercial approach to writing and producing. See, here’s the thing: in Philadelphia we have a more urban, organic approach to music. That’s what I’ve always had. But then you go to Nashville, and everything is about trying to get on the radio. Everything is about commercial. It helped me to see a whole other side of the business.
SV: It sounds like it worked to your advantage that you’re able to do that, and incorporate both ends of it.
DPS: Definitely. That’ been a huge help for me. I think I grew a lot when I went there. I saw another perspective.
SV: Your CD, Epiphany, has been doing well. It’s got some good music, all original, thank you for that. I’ve over the covers and tributes at this point. You’ve got a lot of people helping you out on this album. From the concert, I saw that there’s really good chemistry between you and Carol Riddick. Do you work with her a lot?
DPS: Actually, not a lot. We’ve done a few things together, done a few shows. We spent a lot of time together because I used to own a recording studio. She would come to do songs for other people, or come to rehearse at the studio. We would have writing sessions together, so over the years we developed a friendship through all of that. Just now we’ve started to perform together a little bit more.
SV: Excellent. So, the guitar is your primary instrument, but you play other instruments as well. You write, you produce, and you do it all. You wear a lot of hats, a jack of all trades, as they say. But that’s good in this type of business to be able to do all those different things. I’m sure you’ve used that to your advantage.
DPS: Definitely. For example, if somebody comes in and they need a song produced, it’s to my advantage that I don’t have to call other musicians to do it. I can play the piano, I can play the bass. If it’s a simple part, I can play the drums, sing the background parts, whatever is needed. For the session, it’s really helped me as a producer to be able to do those things.
SV: You are from Philadelphia, and as I said in the review, that’s not just a statement, that actually means something as far as musicality. Philly does have a reputation as a music city. How do you think that’s helped you in your career having that background, and being exposed musically, to what Philly has to offer?
DPS: Like I was saying earlier, Philadelphia has a more organic approach to music. For years we’ve had a lot of great musicians here. Some of the older guys didn’t accept anything less than excellence from us. They would push us. Sometimes they would be mean to us. There was a tradition; we call it the jam session, or we call it the shed. People would come out to the shed. A lot of times, back in the day, the older guys would hold all of the time. They wouldn’t let you play. You had to really be good for them to let you get up there and play one or two songs. They would push you to practice harder, so the next time, they would give you a little more time to play. As I got older, a lot of these guys became mentors, not just musically, but business wise and everything. They would say, “Dave, you need to do this, you need to do that.” Even to this day. I feel like the tradition here is really, really good. Older guys definitely helped to teach us to be better.
SV: You mentioned that it was called the shed, which is also the name of one of your previous albums. Is that where that came from?
DPS: Yes, because there are so many musicians on that album that it was like a big shed, like a big jam session. I called it that for that reason.
SV: A little bit of history thrown in there. Epiphany is technically your fourth release, but the third one was The Shed, which was re-released with more music added. Is that correct?
DPS: It was called Uptown. I went to a label. They were interested in repackaging and redistributing The Shed, but they wanted to change the title and add the additional songs I had written. It did okay, but it’s out of print now. Now, it’s just the EP that’s available on iTunes.
SV: I’m looking at the liner notes for Epiphany and you’ve got some major talent on here: Gerald Albright, Gerald Veasley, Elan Trotman, Carol Riddick, and a host of others. What was it like working with some of these people that you brought to your project?
DPS: A lot of the guys you don’t get the opportunity to record with. The way things work now, they record their part and send it to you. But we’ve had conversations back and forth and they’re really great guys. Gerald Albright is just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He was great. And Gerald Veasley, we actually did the recording in the studio together. It was fun, a lot of fun. We did so many takes of the song, not because they were bad, but because he had a million ideas. We just kept it running, running and running, so I have all of these great takes of his recording in my files. I worked with Carol directly in the studio too with that. It was great. She came in and we wrote the song together. Through a lot of laughter and different things, we were able to record that.
SV: A couple of the songs on here really stood out for me: “Just Like That,” and, of course, “Epiphany,” and “Overbrook Drive.” Is “Overbrook Drive” the first single?
DPS: Actually, “Play It for Me,” and “Just Like That,” were the dual singles we sent around to radio first, but “Overbrook Drive,” has pretty much been the lead single.
SV: Well, I’ve been enjoying this release. It’s a great album and I’m looking forward to other things from you. What’s coming up for you in the future?
DPS: I’m looking to do some different things. I hooked up with a promoter overseas who is trying to get me to do some things there. There should be some possible touring going on. And then, I am working on a new album.
DPS: Yes, it’s coming much faster than I thought. It’s burning me up. I want to show everybody but I have to keep it under wraps until the time of release.
SV: So, this will be a 2014 release? Wow! You work quickly!
DPS: Yes, we’re aiming for the summer of 2014, but it depends on some of the features. We’re trying to get some of that business squared away now. It was much quicker than I expected, trust me. I had planned on taking two years, but I had some things that I wanted to say musically this time around. I am also on the Capital Jazz Cruise. That’s going to be cool. I’m doing the Get Down Club with Joey Sommerville. His band will be playing for me.
SV: That’s great. You should have a blast. That takes care of all of my questions. I look forward to seeing you again. Will I see you at Berks [Jazz Festival]?
DPS: I’ll definitely be at the jam sessions. There’s one more thing I’d like to add if I may.
DPS: I want the people to know that I’m trying hard to bring the 30 something’s out to the festivals. I can’t figure out what happened to my generation. Where did we all go? (Laughs) Or why did we stop liking jazz, or whatever it is? I’m trying to do some things that are interesting to try and bring them out as well. : I definitely want to draw those people back out again. I try to make the music and the performances exciting, something they can grab on to.
SV: Somewhere along the way, smooth jazz suffered an identity crisis. Old school R&B became synonymous with smooth jazz, and vice-versa. Several things happened and the music took a hit. That has something to do with it, I’m sure. But it’s coming back. People still go to festivals. Cruises sell out every year, but I don’t think the 30 something’s are necessarily the ones attending festivals or selling out cruises in large numbers. Someone’s got to do the research on that. But I see your point, and I wish you the best. Anything to expand the listener base for this music is a good thing; especially in these challenging times. People want to be entertained, so with a little help from artists like you, it will work out. Thank you for your time today David.
DPS: Thank you.