An interview with Dr. Steve Kinigstein
"I believe music has the ability to unite, communicate, and form bonds between all people." - Dr. Steve K.
What is your favorite thing about being a musician?
Easily, my favorite thing about being a musician is the joy of discovery. Whether I am playing or composing there is always something new that pops up. When I’m teaching, I love that moment of epiphany when the expression on the face of a student tells me something new has just
What was the role of music in the early years of your life?
Music had a compound and somewhat complex role in the early years of my life. I started studying the guitar when I was eight years old. Music was transporting to me; and I brought my own curiosity to the table. I had an insatiable desire to “make those sounds’. When I was fourteen my father passed away quite suddenly. Having no siblings with whom to share my grief, I took refuge in my music. I practiced for long hours during the school week; and just about all day on the weekends. For about a year or so, I became quite a musical recluse. It was my desire to play in a band that put an end to that grieving period.
Are you from an artistic family?
I am not from an artistic family. Music, however, was always playing on the radio or stereo at home. My uncle owned a chain of record stores. To my good fortune, I was able to get records by any artist or of any music about which I was curious. Thank you, Uncle Phil!
How did you learn to play the guitar?
As stated above, I started taking guitar lessons at age eight. My teacher was pretty stiff with no imagination. He wasn’t overly concerned with correct form or technique, and never told me how to practice. Also, he never brought improvisation into a lesson.
Amazingly, all the parents loved him! I was stuck with him for about five years, until after weeks (maybe months) of begging, pleading, haranguing, and generally insufferably morose behavior around the house, my parents let me move on to a new and better teacher.
What's your favorite song to play?
As far as a favorite song to play goes, that changes at any given moment. Whatever I might be playing, there is always something popping up that arouses my desire to explore.
Who were some of your most influential teachers?
My first composition teacher was Ursula Mamlok. She was one of the most mellifluously musical people I ever met. She had a very strong influence, not only on my technique; but on my ability to listen to details within music.
Mario Davidovsky was a Pulitzer Prize winner; and in my opinion a genius. He taught me how to think 'outside the box' and get creative.
I would have to say that the British guitarist Ike Isaacs is the teacher that really clicked with me. There were times that I felt that I had learned more in one three-hour lesson with him than I had learned in a year from anyone else.
While I never really studied with Mundell Lowe, I couldn’t help but learn simply by
hanging out with him in his studio. Mundy was my childhood “guitar idol”. I got to meet him
when I was writing for Just Jazz Guitar Magazine. We soon became very close friends. I produced what was to be his final recording, the CD Poor Butterfly. Also, I am his official biographer. When we worked together on his biography, he always took time to teach me one thing or another. Sometimes I would just sit and listen to him play; other times we would play together. There was always a lot of “give and take”.
This was taken at the San Diego Jazz Party during one of the best days of my life
L to R: Bucky Pizzarelli, Mundell Lowe, Dr. Steve
Do you write your own music? If so what is your creative process?
Being a trained composer, I, of course, write my own music. I don’t really have what I would call a definitive creative process. I do have some of my own rules to which I strictly stick. If I’m composing for guitar, I never have my instrument in my hands. This comes from a studious avoidance (even a fear) of composing to my own technique rather than the pure musical idea. I always let that which I’ve written sit overnight before I revise or develop it further. I never show it to anyone until it is absolutely finished.
What is one of your favorite performance experiences or memories?
I would say my favorite performance experience occurred a long time ago when I was only eighteen years old. I was playing at the Atlanta Pop Festival in Georgia. It took place in the stadium in which the Atlanta Braves played their home games. Waiting in the dugout and watching the other performers until it was time to go on, I was sitting among stars such as Frank Zappa, Steve Winwood, and Duane Allman. Albert King, my favorite blues guitar player was sitting next to me, holding his guitar. Summoning up my courage, I asked him if he was going to play my absolute, number one favorite Albert King tune, As the Years Go Passing By. I was shocked when he handed me his guitar and said, “Why don’t you?” I had copied and learned the solo from the song note for note. By some miracle my nerves (which were already in fifth gear) didn’t force me to choke. When I finished playing it, I handed him back his guitar. He just looked at me and said, “That’s right boy. You’re doing it right.” I couldn’t believe what had just happened – right in front of Zappa, Winwood, and Allman.
What is one message you'd like to give to your students?
The message I would like to give my students is to get a clear idea of their musical goals. These will evolve through time. If you stick with it, you will achieve them.
What are your interests outside of music?
I’m a life-long baseball fan. The only activity that I actually participate in is Karate. I’ve been doing it since the 1980’s.
How do you work with differing ability levels?
I work with students of different levels by identifying their goals, recognizing and teaching them through their individual learning styles, and by making repertoire and technique accessible to them.
Do you consider music a superpower?
I’m not sure about calling music a superpower. I am sure, though, that music has the ability to unite, communicate, and form bonds between all people.