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Mainieri, Mike [Michael T., Jr. ]locked

  • Paul Rinzler
  •  and Barry Kernfeld

(b New York, July 4, 1938). American vibraphonist, keyboard player, leader, arranger, composer, and producer. His birthday has been incorrectly published as 24 July; Mainieri himself confirmed Independence Day. He took up vibraphone at the age of ten and, while studying classical percussion, first played professionally at the age of 14, touring with Paul Whiteman. By this time he had mastered a four-mallet technique on the instrument. From 1956 to 1962 he was the vibraphonist in Buddy Rich’s band. Later he worked as a session musician with Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, and Wes Montgomery, recording with the last in 1967–8. He also recorded with Kenny Burrell and Sonny Stitt (both 1966) and played with Jeremy Steig (c1967). In the late 1960s and early 1970s he led two groups: White Elephant (a rehearsal band for studio musicians that included Mike and Randy Brecker, Jon Faddis, and Steve Gadd) and L’Image.

In 1979 Mainieri founded the group Steps (later known as Steps Ahead), which received considerable critical acclaim for its sophisticated jazz-rock. He wrote much of the group's material and recorded under the leadership of his fellow bandmembers Warren Bernhardt (at the Montreux festival, 1978, 1980) and Peter Erskine (1982). In addition he worked as the leader of closely related groups; a video made at the Brecker brothers’ club Seventh Avenue South in New York, Mike Mainieri: the Jazz Life (c1985), captures him leading a sextet whose members were Bob Mintzer, Bernhardt, Marcus Miller, Eddie Gomez, and Omar Hakim. Some of this circle were involved in his recordings as a sideman with Art Farmer and David Sanborn (both 1978), Ben Sidran (1978, 1983), Kazumi Watanabe (1980), and Erskine (1982). Mainieri may also be seen in the video Manhattan Express (1981). From 1986, when Steps Ahead disbanded after a tour of Japan, he produced records for other artists, composed music for commercials and films, and established a production company and studio. By 1989 he was working with a reconstituted version of Steps Ahead, which remained active through the 1990s.

In 1992, when he was struggling for work, Mainieri sold his recording studio and founded NYC Records; it released some of Steps Ahead’s earlier albums as well as new recordings by Mainieri and others, among them George Garzone (with Mainieri among his sidemen, 1995). His two albums under the theme An American Diary include improvisatory treatments of works by American composers such as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Leonard Bernstein. For other labels he recorded as a sideman with Don Grolnick (c1994) and Erskine and Klaus Suonsaari (both 1998). He was one of the inventors of the Synthivibe, which consisted of a series of copper percussion bars powered by static electricity; unfortunately the instrument was stolen from him in 1978 and never recovered.

Selected recordings

As unaccompanied soloist

Man Behind Bars (c1995, NYC 6019-2)

Duos with W. Bernhardt

Free Smiles (1978, AN 3009)

As leader

Wanderlust (1981, WB 3586)

An American Diary (1994, NYC 6015-2)

An American Diary: the Dreamings (1997, NYC 6026-2)

As sideman

B. Rich: Blues Caravan (1961, Verve 68425)

D. Grolnick: Medianoche (c1994, WB 42687-2)

Essence All Stars: Afro-Cuban Chant (1995, Hip Bop 8009)

For further recordings see Steps Ahead.


  • B. Primack: “Mike Mainieri: Good Vibes Unlimited,” DB, 45/8 (1978), 17
  • H. Mandel: “Steps Ahead,” DB, 50/8 (1983), 18
  • R. Schietroma: “Mike Mainieri,” Percussive Notes, 22/1 (1983), 56
  • M. Gilbert: “Mike Mainieri,” JJI, 37/12 (1984), 10
  • J. Sabins: “Mike Mainieri,” Modern Percussionist, 2/3 (1986), 8
  • M. Bourne: “Mike Mainieri & Steps Ahead: Hitting it Heavy,” DB, 56/7 (1989), 20
  • G. Endress: “Mike Mainieri: kritische Wertung und Einordnung,” JP, 39/12 (1990), 17
  • T. Piltzecker: “On Drumset/Studio Percussion: the Pioneer of Pickups: an Interview with Vibraphonist, Mike Mainieri,” Percussive Notes, 30/2 (1991), 55
  • D. Kasrel: “Hearsay: New Steps: Mike Mainieri,” JT, 23/2 (1993), 9
  • K. Micallef: “A Different View: Mike Mainieri: a Vibist’s Perspective,” Modern Drummer, 17/9 (1993), 82
  • R. Mattingly: “Mike Mainieri,” Percussive Notes, 32/5 (1994), 39
  • L. Birnbaum: “Mike Mainieri’s Big Idea,” DB, 62/12 (1995), 42 [incl. discography]
  • H. Bordowitz: “Mike Mainieri: Steps in Time,” Jazziz, 12/9 (1995), 54
  • G. Robinson: “Mike Mainieri: Staying Steps Ahead,” JT, 25/5 (1995), 54
  • A. Robson: “Vibes: Mike Mainieri,” Jazz on CD, no.17 (1995), 54
  • R. Trakin: “Musicians Who Own their Labels,” Musician, no.206 (1996), 52
  • R. Mattingly: “Mike Mainieri: the Paths less Traveled,” Percussive Notes, 35/4 (1997), 8
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