Mike Mainieri

Hello Everyone,

I am wondering how other players on here feel about Mike Mainieri, last night I listened to his early recordings with the Buddy Rich Sextet. Buddy Rich has such a varied reputation, but I have to say that in my opinion, these small group recordings are really great. It was a great group, they played great tunes like 'Straight No Chaser', 'Airgen' and 'Pent Up House', and Mike Mainieri's solos are, to my novice ears, really terrific. I am also wondering if he in those early days was not a contemporary of Gary Burton's, and what Mr. Burton's memories and/or thoughts on Mike Mainieri are, if any.

That's one vibes guy I'm not very familiar with,
so I also am curious to hear others' thoughts on

Hi Anthony, Mike was/is certainly a contemporary of mine, although he is maybe four or five years older. We started our careers at about the same time, in the early 60s. I remember going into Birdland, soon after I moved to New York in 1962 and seeing the Buddy Rich small group featuring Mike. That group didn't last a long time -- Buddy went back to the big band format. But it did launch the previously unknown vibist's career. Through the years, Mike bounced back and forth between touring with Michael Brecker in the Steps Ahead band, and also managing a successful studio career. He played on some best-selling pop records with various singers and also produced some of Carly Simon's records. He has lived most of his life near Woodstock, NY, where there is a thriving community of jazz and pop musicians. I'm not certain of Mike's more recent activities. Like Bobby Hutcherson, another contemporary of ours, I don't think Mike is performing much these days. His heyday was probably in the 80s, when he was touring pretty regularly with Brecker.

Thanks Gary. I haven't had the pleasure to catch Mike live,
but used to hear Bobby in the Bay Area a lot
when I was a teenager. His solos would dazzle me and my jazz aficionado dad,
who used to somehow get me into clubs by saying
"This is my assistant." Bobby back then was a very
enigmatic character. Capable of engaging you in
a warm, lengthy conversation about life and music,
or if he wasn't in a good mood, dismissing you with
one gruff exchange. Anyway, the energy of his
performances in the late 80's is something that has stuck with me ever since
those days.
I'll have to keep on the lookout for a Mainieri appearance

since I'm now on the East Coast!

Mainieri is just wonderful. He continually pushes the vibe in new directions, investigates the possibilities of electronics, and is unafraid of getting in and modifying things in search of new sounds and textures. His CD, An American Diary Vol. 1 (mid-90s?) is one of my favorites in all genres by all musicians. Really gorgeous sounds,coherent concept, beautiful execution, and lots of nuance to keep it endlessly interesting. I never tire of listening to his interpretation of some great American compositions--he combines personal commentary, social exploration, and homage to some of our great composers. Check out that inspired CD , but many others are also excellent. Here's a link

I definitely wanted to chime in here and make sure everybody knows how great Mike Mainieri is. Like Gary B., Mike has always been one of my vibe heroes, and I feel really fortunate having been able to meet and learn from him. Mike is a sage, one of the deepest musicians I've ever met, and is a master of the instrument. He's one of those guys who has done everything, and all that experience shows in his playing. All of his records are cool, but the CD I really want to recommend to all of you guys is "Crescent" (on NYC records,Mike's label)- a 2-CD project he did with Charlie Mariano and his bassist - it's just a trio, and features Mike throughout. This is one of the few times you can really hear Mike in more a solo-vibes style, and he's amazing with standards. BTW, great to hear Gary Burton's comments on Mike also-

Mike Mainieri is one of those guys, like Dave Samuels, whose solos I absolutely adore, but whose music overall I frequently find to be a bit too cheesy. I know that's blasphemy, since they're monster players. I blame not living through the 80's.

But this video rules.


As time goes on, I think more and more about the importance of MM. Funny, I never felt that he influenced my playing that much, but he influenced me so much as an ARTIST and is a true pioneer of the instrument. He is an amazing composer, and has constantly been able to put the vibes into new settings that perfectly complement what he had to say musically. And today, I will sometimes realize that his playing influenced me a lot more than I thought... I think that's the case with others as well. When I hear Joe Locke, occasionally moments come up where I can hear Mike's influence and I bet Joe would agree.

One thing I love about Mike is his tastefulness, so it surprises me that anyone would call him cheesy. I never feel that. I also think that some of his old (and new) recordings hold up extremely well. Here are some I love, please check them out!:

1. Wanderlust - this is such a perfectly constructed studio album from the heyday of the analog era, when there were adventurous major label jazz releases. So sad that world is almost all gone today. w/Brecker, MMiller, Grolnick, Erskine, etc, etc.

2. Steps Ahead Live in Tokyo - some of the greatest jazz shows I ever saw were by Steps Ahead in the early 80's. This captures a taste of that dynamic band. Always fresh and moving the music forward.

3. L'Image 2.0 - more recent release, with beautiful tunes from everyone involved.


I could not agree more, this is a good take on Mike Mainieri,
and three great recordings that you recommend.
The Steps Ahead early versions with Brecker/Gadd or Erskine was definitely a
major band for that decade (early 80's on), I also saw them a bunch of times live
and compositions like "Pools" became kind of iconic.

I feel Mike developed a signature sound that was not only defined by his use of pickp-ups, electronic effects and amplification
(even MIDI triggers later on) but also by his very coloristic approach to improv, how he would build up a solo starting with very impressionist motifs and harmonies, almost like watercolors and then kick into gear with very bluesy and soulful lines, just a very unique style.

Like someone mentioned you can get a closer look at his straight ahead background
when he plays solo vibes standard, I've seen him play Lush Life among others
and it's the real deal, going into stride and stuff like that...

Just a thought also:I don't think Mackenzie was calling MM "cheesy" but rather some of the
"fusion" tunes of that era that maybe did not stand the test of time too well, he also mentioned
loving D. Samuels solo's but maybe not so much some of the cuts he was on.
(maybe he's thinking of Spyro Gira that has a some of that early CD 101 feel ...).


The overall feel of a tune is something that I feel is sometimes ignored, and sometimes just not my style, when it comes to jazz. I feel that musicians can get so caught up in "blowing" that they forget that there is so much more that goes into a composition. (Of course, some people prefer to play over simple compositions because it allows them more freedom in their solos). This is why I love the music of Maria Schneider, John Abercrombie, Darcy James Argue, Christine Jensen, and others: they really craft the whole piece.

But now I'm getting a bit off topic I guess! ;)


i love him. i think mainieri is sooo heavy.

and do you guys know (bet shapiro can talk more about this) his thing was producing and producing commercials. i think he is credited for being one of the first to play funk music and other types on commercials as opposed to more of the standards repertoire.

i might not have this accurate, but i think I'm close. I'm sure others will chime in,

but he's one of the heaviest vibe players out there.

Back in the late 1980's, Mike had a company called Centerfield Productions that did lots of stuff. In those days the NYC recording scene was hopping. One day a session singer I know who is related to Mike convinced me I should call him up over there. We talked and he was really nice even though I had no reason to be calling him...saw him a few years ago and thankfully he didn't remember that call ;-)

Mike played an amazing solo set (followed by band with Erskine) at the PAS convention last November. Solo set included Lush Life, Giant Steps, Beatles tunes, etc. Diverse and quite amazing! For people that tell me they don't dig Steps Ahead I always recommend checking out the American Diaries (Volume 1 &2) recordings. You won't be disappointed....its modern straight ahead music...with an all star line up. Mike has an amazing modern harmonic concept, but also plenty of blues in his playing.
ps Leucasia is also a wonderful recording.

Gary Burton's contemporary was Bobby Hutchinson, but Mike, like Steve Nelson was one of those underrated unsung
vibists. Excellent player and composer. Especially using four mallet technique. He was also one of the first mallet players to play
electric vibes and introduced us to the synthi-vibe ( pre malletkat). Yes, great player, producer, composer, & innovator.

I had the chance to meet him twice and each time he mesmerized me totally. "One heavy cat" as would say Tony. Mastering his instrument, with a calm, self confident and yet humble behavior... Quite amazing!
Last time was two years ago. He did a gig with Franck Tortiller, then a workshop near Paris. His experience, maestria, advices and humility can only generate the highest respect...
ps: a picture I took during the concert: http://www.vibesworkshop.com/image/mike-mainieri-new-morning-paris-nov-2...

If any of the vibe workshop folks remember Mike's concert at Pasic 2013. It literally blew me away. He 30 mins or so solo set was hands down masterfully done and effortless. It was if we where in his living room hearing him play what he loves. floating for standard to standard with an incredible sense of voice leading and reharmonization. the he brought peter erskine out and blew the doors off the joint with some steps ahead tunes ..

Ive personally being in mike since i was about 10 year old on those same records with buddy rich's small group. and then graduated to his wanderlust recording .. His recent recording to date i believe is " Reunion" with Gene bertoncini and micheal moore. the recording is so remenisent of the red norvo/ tal farlow recordings. come to find out that gene and mike have known each other since they were teenagers and were cutting the teeth of those exact records.

Mike is a super heavy cat .. " Crescent" knocks me out still.... i hope his health is well and pray that we all get to see him perform more in coming years ..