On John Shifflett

With John, Jason Lewis and Peter Horvath at Yoshi’s Oakland

John Shifflett was unique – not pretty unique, very unique or really unique, but unique in the true meaning of the word.  He was my musical friend for over 20 years, and bizarrely enough, the first time we played, we were both on a big band rehearsal in Oakland, a couple of years after I moved out from New York. I say bizarrely, because John and I never played a big band gig or rehearsal together again, NOT ONCE, despite several hundred gigs, 6 CDs and a bunch of rehearsals and sessions. 

I played occasional gigs with John w Andre Bush, Paul Nagel and others, and by 1998, I knew he and his partner in crime Nagel were ideal choices to join a quartet I co-led with the great Steve Smith. John stayed with that group until Steve moved away 5 years later, including an amazing tour of Canada with Dave Liebman, playing Monterey and a CD documenting the group.  He also joined Nagel and Amendola on a live record that Liebman and I did at the jazzschool, joined me on several occasions in Vancouver for festival and club hits, played in the group Zilberella with Susan Muscarella, Tim Bulkley and me for 2 years, and, for the last 10, he and the other side of his musical heartbeat, Jason Lewis, were an indispensable part of the quartet I co-lead with guitar great John Stowell.  One of my fondest memories is the 10 summers we all did co-teaching the advanced summer intensive at the jazzschool, John, Jason, Peter Horvath and me always being there.  It was always the best and most fun week of teaching I did all year, thanks to John and the others.
So whether it was with Steve Smith and Nagel, Muscarella and Tim Bulkley, Liebman, Amendola, Stowell, and of course Jason, it really didn’t matter, John always brought more soul and swing and musicality and joy and solid choices to the proceedings than any of us had a right to expect.  He was a truly great musician, ALWAYS putting the music first, and while he had a deep and subtle understanding of harmony, melody and rhythm, the thing that he brought that every great musician I have ever heard or played with has is the CRY, that reaching down deep into the most vibrant part of the heart. Utterly without ego, but powerful and with conviction. That was John Shifflett.  Sometimes, when he was really digging a moment, he would even vocalize that cry behind you as you played. 
It was almost impossible to pick among the dozens of songs we recorded together, but the two I settled on are from the last CD we did together with John Stowell and Jason Lewis. The songs are 2 I wrote, Basement Blues and Stowell in Heart.  Basement Blues was written, in part, for John, one of the very few times I ever gave him a written bass line, because it reminded me of what he might have done. Stowell in Heart is on there because, while John was a reluctant soloist, he was a beautiful one, and this represents the kind of solo magic he could spin when he had the space.  There is not a musician on the planet who has been there for more of my happiest musical moments the past 20 or so years, and like all of you, I will miss his sound terribly much. So long, John, Michael Zilber

Sweet words from Dr. Brad Stone on my CD – “This is one of the premier releases of all time on Origin Records”

These words on Originals for the Originals from Brad Stone, the host of the Creative Source radio program, are among the kindest that have been said about the CD, and were originally in a personal email from Brad to me.  He enthusiastically said I should share them, so here they are.


You know, Mike, I love Origin Records.  I love what John is doing with the label, and program 98.7% of what he puts out.  His label has developed its own sound, kinda like ECM has done over the years.  It’s music that I personally would put on for enjoyment, not just for programming my show. I really dig a lot of the artists on the label.  So, this is all a prelude to what I’m about to say.  I think your record is one of the premier releases of all time on John’s label.  I think it’s going to go down as a historically important recording.  Your passion and love for those “originals” shines through in your playing on this one.
Dr. Brad Stone
Producer, Programmer and Host: “The Creative Source”
Featuring progressive jazz, fusion, new jazz releases, current artists, original compositions
JazzWeek Bobby Jackson Award Winner (Jazz Programmer of the Year),
Internet/Non-Terrestrial Radio, 2014 and 2015

“This release is a perfect marriage of head and heart.” Hobart Taylor KUCI 88.9FM

Hobart Taylor at KUCI 88.9FM in Irvine, CA has reviewed Originals for the Originals, and it is very positive.

Let’s start out by saying that these are incredible melodies. The compositions are deeply engaging and the ensemble beautifully supports Zilber’s intensely personal voice on tenor and soprano saxes. The tunes are homages to other jazz greats, Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Dave Liebman, John Coltrane, and Paul Desmond, but while they sometimes mirror the feel of these artists, they are not derivative. They are Zilber’s interpretations of the spirits of these artists. This release is a perfect marriage of head and heart.

Check it out over at

Wonderful review of Originals by Andrew Gilbert

Michael Zilber, an original saxophonist salutes originals

Andrew Gilbert, February 9/2017


Over the past 15 years or so the Albany saxophonist Michael Zilber has recorded a series of critically hailed collaborations, joining forces with an imposing array of master improvers like drum maestro Steve Smith, saxophone legend Dave Liebman, and the painterly guitar explorer John Stowell.

But Zilber’s latest album Originals for the Originals (Origin) is the kind of project that doesn’t accommodate a co-leader. A highly personal tribute to his saxophone heroes, the album summons the spirits of transcendent talents like John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond. Rather than trying to evoke the unmistakable sounds of these storied players, he bases each piece on a melodic phrase or harmonic passage drawn from their music.

Click here to read the rest!

Michael Zilber, an original saxophonist salutes originals

Mike Joyce says in Jazz Times: “truly an inspired musical alliance”



Following this West Coast ensemble’s two widely acclaimed recordings, Shot Through With Beauty and Live Beauty, Basement Blues may seem like a departure, in tone and tack. But as “Stowell in Heart” and other highlights here warmly illustrate, Basement Blues is similarly riddled with charms, to say nothing of its soulful allure and conversational postbop gambits.  Read the whole review here:
Continue reading “Mike Joyce says in Jazz Times: “truly an inspired musical alliance””

Wonderful review of Basement Blues by All About Jazz

Dan McClenaghan from All About Jazz wrote a wonderful review of Basement Blues. Here’s an excerpt; read the whole thing at

Guitarist Stowell’s approach is distinctive—silvery chords and pinprick single notes that reverberate from the rafters. Saxophonist Zilber is a flawless, soulful technician on soprano and tenor saxophones. Bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis are perfection in the supportive rhythm rolls. It all comes together in a cohesive set that is probing and cerebral and laid-back approachable.

Continue reading “Wonderful review of Basement Blues by All About Jazz”

Some reviews of Live Beauty

I have been so heartened and grateful by the response to the new release, Live Beauty. The # and positivity of the reviews has been overwhelming, including from all major jazz publications, including a wonderful 4 star review in downbeat from Bill Milkowski.

John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet
Live Beauty
ORIGIN 82684

The potent partnership of guitarist John Stowell and saxophonist Michael
Zilber plays out on this highly inter-active and adventurous set recordedbefore a live audience at the California
Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley. Fueled by the remarkably empathetic Bay Area rhythm tandem of bassist John Shifflet and drummer Jason Lewis, Stowell and Zilber take their time and follow their muse quite freely throughout this intimate concert.

Zilber, a Vancouver native who spent his 20s playing and recording in New York before moving to San Francisco, reveals a decidedly Michael Brecker influence in his bold tenor lines on the spirited opener, “In The Park,” which has him nonchalantly double-timing and reaching into the uppermost register of his horn. He switches to soprano for an exhilarating romp through Shifflett’s uptempo burner “Quantum Theory,” which also turns Lewis loose on an extended drum solo. Zilber’s “Stowell What” is a quirky, pointillistic nod to his Portland-based partner, who may be less well-known but is no less accomplished than his East Coast counterparts like Vic Juris, Ben Monder and Jonathan Kreisberg. Zilber and Stowell turn in a provocative duo read- ing of “My Funny Valentine,” which features Stowell probing the microton- al zone on fretless guitar. And they close on a dynamic note, recalling the chemistry between Joe Lovano and John Scofield on a second-line flavored take on Sco’s “Wabash III.” —Bill Milkowski

Here is a link to some of the reviews on the Origin Records page and deep gratitude for all the kind words about this CD. we have recorded a very nice studio one, so hopefully it will be out sometime in the next year…