From the moment he made his debut in 1985 with the gold-selling Grammy-nominated album Magic Touch, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan has proven himself as a forward thinking innovator. With his nimbly executed “touch” or “tap” technique, he ushered a dazzling and spellbinding new sound into the world of progressive instrumental music. Over the course of five major recordings and several smaller independent releases, Stanley has explored earthly and astral musical trailways. Because of the extraordinary originality of his approach to guitar, Stanley has been looked upon first and foremost as a musical original, orbiting in an artistic universe without predecessor or immediate successor. With his groundbreaking album, State of Nature (his first mainstream release in over a decade, and his debut for the Mack Avenue label), Stanley Jordan makes another bold step by using his music to aurally illustrate profoundly unifying truths about man’s relationship to nature and humankind.
It was a convergence of experiences that led Stanley down this thematic path. “Part of the reason that I made this album were revelations I discovered in my journey to try to become a better person,” he states. “The other reason is that I discovered some disturbing information about environmental issues such as global warming, the deterioration of our planet and man’s role in it. When I was a kid, my family lived in what is now known as Silicon Valley, which used to be a vast swath of open land with farms and orchards. People talked a lot back then about taking care of the environment, but fast forward to today and it’s still a problem. It made me wonder how humans can know about things like global warming and still not do anything. What is it about humans that makes us so intelligent and yet so unwise?”
This thought process led to the underlying inspiration for the song structures and themes of State of Nature. Recording at Tarpan Studios in Northern California allowed Stanley to take time off for retreats to beautiful Santa Cruz and surrounding areas, where he immersed himself in nature awareness courses. The resulting music finds Stanley weaving classical, jazz and rock textures to get across his messages of atonement and harmony. Beyond his signature touch technique on guitar, Stanley utilizes other revolutionary techniques, such as playing two guitars at once, playing guitar and piano simultaneously, and incorporating sounds of nature that he recorded himself. Stanley also features the cello work of 19 year-old Meta Weiss, a classically trained musician whom he once tutored as a child in jazz and improvisation. He also includes three short pieces called “Mind Games” - mini canons, palindromes and interludes (inspired by those that Earth Wind & Fire slipped into classic albums such as That’s the Way of the World) that gave him an opportunity to include some musical ideas on the album without changing its focus.
Stanley states, “The two main ideas that consumed my thoughts were these: Human beings need to get back to nature, which extends to the environment as well as our bodies - the part of nature we carry around with us, and we need to evolve intellectually, spiritually and politically. Neither will work without the other. I believe that when we become more educated, we’ll be better problem solvers.”
State of Nature also includes a return to piano. That Stanley is also a pianist may be surprising, but it was his first instrument as a child because there was one in the house. “My sister says I was messing around with it as young as three. I composed my first song at five and I started lessons around age seven. I didn’t start on guitar until I was eleven. Piano was a natural instrument for me. I find that when I sit at the piano, I make music. But I don’t have the same training as I have on guitar. So that’s always been intimidating. I realized that for my own personal development, I had to get out of my comfort zone and overcome my fear of performing on piano. There are aspects of my music that live in the piano. If I want those elements, I have to go there to get them.”
To describe Stanley Jordan is to think of him as a world-class musician who marches in all aspects of his life to the beat of his own drum. He is a progressive thinker with goals and ideas that stretch far beyond record deals, fortune or fame.
Each project that followed his classic Magic Touch (Stanley was also nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy that year) has taken him into thrilling virgin territory. Those projects included a solo guitar album titled Standards Volume 1 (1986) where Stanley made the bold statement that songs by the likes of Stevie Wonder and the Beatles deserved recognition as standards as much as chestnuts like “Georgia on My Mind.” He followed that with the band album Flying Home (1988) and an especially edgy album titled Cornucopia (1990, a Grammy nominee in the Best Pop Single category for the title track), half of which was straight ahead jazz recorded live and the other half, multi-dimensional originals recorded in the studio. Still later in 1994, after a move to Arista Records (then-helmed by pop music maverick Clive Davis), he recorded the bracingly eclectic Bolero album, featuring covers of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Drifting,” his original “Plato’s Blues” and the CD’s centerpiece, a 17-minute arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero” broken up into rock, African, Latin, “groove” and industrial versions.
Frustrated with the demands of the commercial music industry, among other things, Jordan went into a self-imposed exile from the rat race in the '90s that included a retreat to the mountains of the Southwest. He re-emerged with a new life’s direction. “Most people - if and when they find their calling - come to see themselves in some sort of service capacity,” he states. “Right now I feel a strong desire to bring my music to the people not just for entertainment, but also for inspiration and healing.” Though he maintains a busy international touring schedule, his broader interests stretch into the studies of Music Therapy and Sonification. He also owned and operated the Sedona Books and Music Store in Arizona. Before the completion of State of Nature, he recorded several independent CDs, including Ragas (a collaboration with musicians from India featuring Jay Kishor on sitar) and Relaxing Music for Difficult Situations I, an audio extension of his Music Therapy interests.
In addition to touring for State of Nature, Stanley has set up an extension of his website that - much like major motion pictures have their own websites - will further explain and illustrate the intensely complex messages he aims to get across with his new album through the use of photos, video, essays and more.
Themes duly noted, nothing can take away the simple beauty this long-awaited collection brings. Stanley ultimately wants his international fan base to enjoy it on whatever level they feel at the moment. This truly shines through in the album’s radio-bound closing track “Steppin’ Out,” a cover of the feel-good 1982 single by British musical maverick Joe Jackson. It features Stanley’s daughter Julia among the vocalists on a newly penned chorus.
Passionately engaged in his train of thought, Jordan concludes, “If you think about space and how empty it is, here we are on a planet that is so nurturing to us. We need to get back to that. Look at the cracks in the sidewalk. The power of life is so strong that a little seedling can crack the concrete and come through. So at the end of ‘Steppin’ Out’ - like the end of a night on the town - we return to nature sounds. The urban and the natural can co-exist.”
In 2011, Jordan was joined by an all-star lineup featuring saxophonist Kenny Garrett, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Kenwood Dennard for the album Friends.