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Guitarist Steve Peplin leads a great group of musicians on "Infinite Stairways"

"Infinite Stairways" is jazz guitarist Peplin's debut as sole leader

Despite his many years on the scene, jazz guitarist and composer Steve Peplin's fine new disc, "Infinite Stairways" -- sheathed in an eye-catching 3-D sleeve -- is his debut as sole leader of a session.

"Infinite Stairways" is a fine set of straight-ahead post-bop jazz that Peplin describes as "a conservative Blue Note-style jazz record."

Peplin's sidemen on the disc include trumpeter Jamie Breiwick, drummer Sam Belton, ULU's Aaron Gardner and Marsalis alum John Price.

Some of the many steps in Peplin's career have included performing with everyone from Mel Rhyne to Doc Severinsen, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra to De La Buena.

He's also a faculty member in the jazz programs at two Wisconsin institutions of higher learning and is a major fixture on Milwaukee's sometimes under-appreciated jazz scene. He writes for Guitar One magazine and has done a number of transcription books for Milwaukee-based Hal Leonard Publishing Co.

Because we haven't profiled him before, we let Peplin give you his own version of his background before we discussed the new record. Can you give us a quick recap of the Steve Peplin story?

Steve Peplin: Sure, I'll give you the crazy version. I started out on a Muppets drumset -- with Animal on the bass drum head -- which I bought with my allowance at a rummage sale in the prison mines of Liberia (cough). Screwed around on trumpet, got kicked out of band for refusing to march, got kicked off the baseball team for having really long hair, had knee surgery and started playing guitar at 16.

I was the singer and writer for numerous rock bands. A friend told me about the MATC music program which I attended and met a very influential musician and mentor, Jack Grassel, who somehow got me into jazz which I found infinitely more rewarding and challenging than any other music.

After getting my associate degree there I went to Berklee College of Music in '94. They gave me a decent deal and I graduated with a Bachelor's in composition in '96.
Jack called me up and offered me a teaching position at MATC and I've been there since teaching guitar, composition, honor's ensemble and so forth. The program is wonderful, as I have all the freedom I require to be able to teach and get real practice in at the same time.

I am also the jazz guitar professor at Lawrence University in Appleton which is a great honor for me as that jazz program keeps winning Downbeat awards and has a great bunch of monster players/educators there. Fred Sturm is there!

I'm currently playing for 13 jazz related bands including Jamie Breiwick's Choirfight, Out for Blood with Neil Davis and Andrew Spadafora, Isiah Joshua, Ben Hans, the Scott Currier Quintet, others and of course my own groups. I'm playing around three to five gigs a week in situations where the music isn't just there for subliminal background purposes.

I'll rarely take a gig if there's a TV on while the band is playing or if the place is serving food. As Miles Davis said, "I didn't come here to eat."

OMC: Who are your biggest influences? Are you automatically more interested in jazz guitarists than other instrumentalists or not necessarily?

SP: My grandmother Lorraine was a professional organist for almost 70 years, so she had a profound effect on me.

My biggest influences are not guitar players, but musicians. Top three: (John) Coltrane, (Thelonious) Monk, McCoy Tyner. Musicians who play guitar that I like: Grant Green, Pat Martino, (Bill) Frisell, (Marc) Ribot sometimes. Oh, Joe Pass of course. I Love John Zorn, Arnold Schoenberg, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Wu-Tang Clan, Tool and, of course, Slayer.

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