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Steve Cardenas
Steve Cardenas

Steve Cardenas is a true virtuoso when it comes to the guitar, and his reputation as a versatile and accomplished musician in the jazz world is well-deserved. Throughout his career, he has made significant contributions to the music scene, leaving an indelible mark with his extraordinary playing style and impeccable musicality. Whether it’s in live performances or studio recordings, Steve’s guitar prowess shines through, captivating audiences and fellow musicians alike.

One can’t help but be excited about his upcoming performance at Zinc on Monday, August 14. The anticipation for this show is high, as it promises to be a night to remember, filled with mesmerizing melodies, intricate improvisations, and soulful expressions that only Steve can deliver. His ability to connect with the audience and his fellow musicians on stage creates an electrifying atmosphere, making each performance a unique and unforgettable experience.

Today, we have the privilege of sitting down with Steve to gain insights into his illustrious career, delve into his recent musical projects, and get a glimpse of what to expect at his highly-anticipated show. From discussing his artistic inspirations to sharing stories from the road, this interview promises to provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of Steve Cardenas, the consummate guitarist and artist. So, let’s dive in and discover the magic behind the music with this exceptional musician.

Charles Carlini: Can you share with us a bit about your musical journey and how you became interested in jazz guitar?

Steve Cardenas: After spending a year jamming with a rock band, I decided to join my high school’s big band during my sophomore year. Little did I know that this move would expose me to a whole new world of music and chords. However, it wasn’t until the summer after junior year that my brother and future brother-in-law introduced me to the captivating sounds of Airto and Weather Report. This introduction sparked a journey of musical exploration, leading me to delve into the enchanting world of Miles Davis, and naturally, venturing into the realms of early Miles, Charlie Parker, and more, including the captivating music on the ECM label.

CC: You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with many talented musicians throughout your career. Could you tell us about one memorable collaboration that had a significant impact on your musical growth?

SC: Singling out one person among the many influential figures I’ve had the honor to play with is no easy task. Throughout my journey, I’ve been fortunate to be part of bands led by some of my musical heroes. Additionally, my early experiences in Kansas City bands greatly contributed to my growth, and here in New York, I’ve been a devoted member of several groups for years. Though the list could go on, I must mention Paul Motian, who left a profound impact on me.

For a remarkable 14 years, I had the privilege of being a part of the Electric Bebop Band, and its various iterations, under Paul’s guidance. His unique sense of time and phrasing, along with his ability to shape the music, left a lasting impression on my musical sensibilities. Playing in his group also introduced me to a new dimension of music as we ventured into playing out of time regularly. It was fascinating to witness how Paul could create forward movement and a sense of time even while playing his tunes Rubato. His musical genius truly left an indelible mark on my artistic journey.

CC: Recently, you’ve been working on some exciting new projects. Can you give us a glimpse of what you’ve been working on and any upcoming releases we can look forward to?

SC: ​​At the end of August, a guitar duo album featuring Jim Campilongo and myself will be released on Sunnyside Records, titled New Year. It’s an exciting collaboration since Jim and I have been performing as a duo in NYC since 2004. While we had worked on a few demos in the past, it wasn’t until Jim moved back to the SF Bay Area last fall that we finally had the opportunity to record something for an official release.

In addition to that, I am also part of a fantastic collaborative trio with Ben Allison and Ted Nash. Last year, we released our latest record titled Healing PowerThe Music of Carla Bley. However, we wasted no time and already have another record completed, featuring Herbie Nichols’ music. We are hopeful that this new album will see the light of day sometime next year. It’s been an incredible journey filled with musical exploration and creativity alongside these talented musicians.

CC: Your playing style is often described as unique and innovative. How do you approach creating and experimenting with your sound while staying true to the jazz tradition?

SC: Given the vast array of guitar sounds and playing styles that have emerged over the decades, it’s challenging to pinpoint a precise definition of staying within the jazz tradition. In my opinion, it all comes down to personal preferences and individual inclinations. Personally, I find myself drawn to various genres and enjoy playing a diverse range, including swing, bebop, blues, funk, rock, and more – the list is endless.

However, what matters most to me is not restricting myself to specific styles but rather embracing music as a means of creative and expressive playing, regardless of its origin or direction. For me, the essence lies in connecting with the music at a profound level and using it as a vehicle to convey emotions and ideas through my guitar. It’s about the joy of exploration and allowing my musical instincts to guide me, no matter the genre.

CC: Your upcoming show at Zinc on Monday, August 14, has generated much anticipation among jazz enthusiasts. What can the audience expect from this performance, and do you have any surprises in store for them?

SC: I’m thrilled about an upcoming opportunity to play with some exceptional musicians and longtime friends, Massimo Biolcati on bass and Adam Cruz on drums. It’s not often that we get to perform together, so I’m truly excited about this collaboration. Both Massimo and Adam possess remarkable creativity and an acute sense of listening, making it a dream team to play with.

As for the repertoire, we plan to mix things up, combining a few of my original tunes with some iconic Monk compositions and timeless jazz standards. It’s going to be an enriching musical experience, and I can’t wait to dive into the magic that unfolds when we come together on stage.


Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to chat with us today. We are eagerly looking forward to your show at Zinc on Monday, August 14. For more information about Steve Cardenas and his music, make sure to visit his website:

Don’t miss out on the chance to witness Steve Cardenas’ mesmerizing guitar performance at Zinc on Monday, August 14. Click here to grab your tickets today!

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