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Dave Stryker – 6 Weeks at #1, and Counting!



Jazz Guitar Today caught up with Dave Stryker to discuss his recent #1 album, the inspiration behind the project and much more.

JGT: Let’s talk about what’s giving you your voice.  I see your playing a Gibson ES-347 and a Benedetto GA-35. What about these guitars makes them your choice?  What amps, strings do you prefer?  Effects?

I’ve been playing and recording with my Gibson ES 347 since about 1990. I started out with a Gibson ES 175 as my first jazz guitar, then an L5, and decided I wanted to go for more of my own sound back around 1990 and I liked the punch and sustain of the 347 semi hollow. The pick ups are stock “Dirty Fingers” and are pretty hot and will over drive a small fender so you have to be careful. But I dig the punch and felt it was my sound. 

Recently I’ve been also playing my Benedetto GA 35 which is also nice and has a lot of clarity. You really hear every note of the chord. I also have a Benedetto Bravo Deluxe and several Gibson and Guild jazz boxes which I love as well. But the semi hollow seems to be my sound. I use either a Fender Blues DeVille 4×10 in the studio and a Fuchs Jazz Classic on gigs. I also collect Polytone 15’s and still like those!

I use D’Addario Round wound 13-56 w plain 22. On my jazz boxes I sometimes use flat wounds.

I don’t really use effects , unless the music or record date calls for it. I have an Earthquaker dispatcher I’ve been using lately for reverb/delay.

JGT: You have worked a lot in the organ trios.  What draws you to that format?

I started out in Omaha early on with a great B3 player named John Maller. When I moved to NYC in 1980 I sat in with Jack McDuff and ended up working with him from 84-85. I also played with Dr. Lonnie Smith and got to play with Jimmy Smith  when he would sit in with McDuff. Also I really love the Grant Green Blue Note records with Larry Young and Elvin Jones. So I have that sound and feel in my bones. There is nothing like the sound of organ and guitar in an organ trio. They just fit together nicely and make a great groove.

After I left Jack McDuff, I worked with Stanley Turrentine for 10 years starting in 1996. I also started recording for SteepleChase in around 1990. I stopped playing with organ for many years, as I felt I had done that with the best.

I did a couple organ trio records for SteepleChase. One with Larry Goldings (Blue Degrees) and one with Joey DeFrancesco (Stardust). So that got me back into it. Then I met organist Jared Gold at Cecils in West Orange NJ and started an organ trio with him that I’ve been playing with for the last 10 years. Jared is special. He plays modern as well as having a traditional background. We avoid the organ cliches and just play music.

JGT: You teach at two schools Indiana University and Montclair State University.  What is your teaching philosophy?  I understand your own musical education came from the masters you played with including Jack McDuff, Stanley Turrentine, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and many others.  How do you approach teaching in an academic environment?

Yes I was lucky to be able to get the experience of working with some of the Masters of this music. So that was my education, being on the road with Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine. The jazz programs at Indiana University and Montclair State University saw value in that even though I don’t have a degree. I teach the way I learned by stressing listening and transcribing the masters of guitar as well as other instruments. Learning tunes, and playing with others as much as possible. I also have a book out “Dave Stryker’s Jazz Guitar Improvisation Method Vol III” that we work out of. I try to teach my students lines to use to speak the Jazz Language and to ultimately help them find their own voice. We work on the Big 3: Sound, Rhythm and Harmony. The Blues is the foundation of Jazz and that must be addressed as well as having a good feel and playing with heart and soul. I try and pass along what I learned from some of the greats.

JGT: Do you emphasize reading in your curriculum… If I was an incoming Freshman, where would you start?  What do you expect from Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors?

Yes, reading (music) is important and we work on that although I expect the students to work on that on their own to be a well-rounded musician. I have different curriculum I use for each year, but adapt it to each students individual level.

JGT: You have played with many of the ‘jazz greats’.  Would you share with us the kinds of things that each of them taught or emphasized with you?

Playing with McDuff and Turrentine you had to have a good feel, play with heart and soul and the blues and always give 100%. Following their solos you had better be dealing or you would be gone. Stanley had amazing time and an instantly identifiable sound you could detect in 2 notes. That was very inspiring to hear night after night. Jack knew lots of standards so I saw it was important to know a lot of tunes and how to play over them. Also seeing their professionalism and how they played for the people wasn’t lost for me.

JGT: Your career has been long and filled with lots of great experiences.  You are gaining incredible success with your new record “Eight track III”.   As of this writing, 6 weeks at #1 on the jazz charts – Congratulations!  Can you talk about your dedication to the process?

Thanks. Yes my latest Eight Track III has been #1 for 4 weeks now. Not sure how to answer that question. I’ve always worked hard I guess. I realized a long time ago that if things were going to happen I would have to try and do it myself. I started writing music at a young age and was able to put out a lot of CD’s on the SteepleChase label (about one a year for 20 years) doing all kinds of different projects. So I would record a CD and then try and book gigs around that and try and get radio interested. So after a long time it feels great to hit #1 for the last month with the new one. You just have to get up each day and try and work on what you need to do. No one is going to do that for you.

JGT: Is there someone living or past that you have not played with that you would love to share the stage with?

Well of course. I would of loved to have played with Elvin Jones and Sonny Rollins to name a couple, but I feel lucky to have gotten to work and play with the greats I have, both well-known and my peers.

JGT: Who has been your biggest influences and inspirations?

Musically on guitar I would say Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, George Benson, Jim Hall…all the greats. Also I was influenced a lot by a great guitarist from Omaha named Billy Rogers, who passed away too soon. He was one of the greats, but not as well-known as he should of been. I’ve also been inspired by others instrumentalists. Listening to and transcribing other instruments can help to get a unique sound on your own instrument. Mile, Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and on and on….

JGT: What are you listening to these days… who inspired you coming along and who inspires you today?

It was inspiring to see how Pat Metheny, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, and earlier Pat Martino and George Benson and others were able to have a career by playing their asses off and working hard.

There are so many great young guitarists coming along it’s very inspiring. One of my favorites is Kurt Rosenwinkel for his writing and playing. I love his album Caipi and everything he does.

JGT: You have recorded 29 CDs as a leader… how do you choose material between your originals and “covers”?

I just try and mix things up. My last record was called “Strykin’ Ahead” and I did originals and arrangements of some jazz classics. My latest “Eight Track III” I do my arrangements of tunes from the 70s. This has been a great way to get people into the music by playing melodies they recognize, and finding a way to put my stamp on them so we can improvise like they are jazz tunes. Even if people don’t remember the original versions, these tunes have great melodies that people seem to dig.

JGT: Advice to players coming up? 

Listen to the music. You can’t play jazz and get a good feel unless you love it and live it. Better to listen to a few things a lot – then a lot of things a little. Keep practicing, playing with others, and don’t get discouraged. Everyone has their own creative voice that is waiting to come 

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