Born in Munich, Germany, Leni started playing piano at the age of six and guitar at eleven. At seventeen, she formed her own acting company. Her radical productions sold out houses across Europe and attracted press and TV coverage. In 1977, she turned her attention to music and left for the United States to study film scoring at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Film scoring gave way to her love for guitar and in 1981, Leni moved to New York City to play in a variety of rock and jazz bands. In1983, she formed a group of her own with Paul Motion on drums and Bill Frisell on guitar. Leni’s 1985 “Clairvoyant” was her first solo instrumental recording.
In between writing, recording, and touring, Leni somehow finds the time to run her own record label, Leni Stern Recordings (LSR), which she began in 1997 with the release of “Black Guitar”, her first vocal full length release. While she hopes to release albums by other performers in the jazz and songwriter worlds in the future, Leni has already released three additional albums of her own on LSR thus far: 1998’s “Recollection“, a critically-acclaimed retrospective which made the top 10 of the year for Billboard in the jazz category and also included five new vocal tracks; and “Kindness of Strangers”, Leni’s 2000 release which saw her breaking new ground: that of orchestrator/composer, especially on the centerpiece track, “Vedo Il Tuo Viso (I See Your Face).” “I got the commission,” Leni remembers. “Then, because of the availability of musicians and circumstances surrounding the event, I found out I was going to have to compose a song for a full orchestra of 120 performers!” She rose to the occasion, to stunning results, prompting the Washington Post to declare: “…her multi-faceted talent is shining in ways it never has before.”
Leni gathered many of her friends for her 2003’s “Finally The Rain Has Come”, which resulted in an impressive "who's who" sort of team. The album features American textures compliments of Bill Frisell's guitars and Jenny Scheinman's violin; world music sounds from John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain; elements of rock from Keith Carlock and Paul Socolow; and the jazz stylings of Michael Brecker's saxophone.
An unassuming and humble role model she certainly is, given her stellar 20-year, 13-album recording career. Gibson has chosen her as the Female Guitarist of the Year five consecutive times. She originally made a name for herself in jazz circles (her first nine albums were instrumental), then crossed her talents over into more of a singer-songwriter realm, garnering a great deal of press praise in the process. Her music, which has been dubbed “folk-jazz,” incorporates “intelligent lyrics and beautifully drawn vignettes” (Washington Post), “crystalline, jazz-meets-blues guitar lines” (Guitar Player), and “thoughtful structure, evocative moods, attention to groove” (San Francisco Bay Guardian).
Leni Stern is perpetual motion. When she’s not wearing one of her many professional hats (singer, guitarist, label owner, author, composer, orchestrator), she is wearing one or more of the other many hats that make her who she is: social advocate, martial artist (she holds three belts in the Southern Shaolin discipline of Hung-Ga), cancer survivor, proud New York City resident… the list goes on and on. When asked if she considers herself a role model given her achievements, she demurs: “I have been told I’m a role model, but I find that hard to believe most of the time. I hope I can be an inspiration, though. I want people to realize that if they want to do something or dream of being something, that they should follow their dreams.”
When Evening Falls more >>