As a teacher at Music Makers Workshop in Ahwatukee, Dr. Steve Kinigstein helps his students master the strings of guitars and ukeles.
As a composer and professional musician, Kinigstein by his own account is an explorer traversing an endless universe of sounds and melodies.
“My favorite thing about being a musician is the joy of discovery,” he said. “Whether I am playing or composing there is always something new that pops up. When I’m teaching, I love that moment of epiphany when the expression on the face of a student tells me something new has just clicked.”
And as a musician, he said, “Whatever I might be playing, there is always something popping up that arouses my desire to explore.”
He recalled that when he started learning the guitar at age 8, “music had a compound and somewhat complex role in the early years of my life” as he discovered that music “was transporting to me” and in turn “I brought my own curiosity to the table.”
At age 14, tragedy struck when his father passed away and because he had no siblings he could share his grief with, he found comfort in music, practicing for hours after school and throughout the weekend so much so that he came “a musical recluse” for about a year.
Kinigstein’s desire to play in a band ended his grieving period and soon he was off on a musical odyssey that deepened his passion for music and expanded his reportoire.
His formal education included a bachelor’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a master’s degree and doctorate from Columbia University in New York City.
His “informal” education, though, included studying under some of the great guitarists and composers of several generations.
He studied guitar with masters of the instrument such as Jim Hall, George Benson, Ike Isaacs, and Harry Leahy. Recommended for the doctoral program at Columbia by the late composer Milton Babbitt, who earned a reputation for his work in electronic music, Kinigstein studied composition under some of the giants in composing, including Ursula Mamlok, David Rakowski, Mario Davidovsky, Giampaolo Bracali and George Edwards.
While living in New York and going to school there, he earned his living performing as a substitute guitarist in the orchestras of several Broadway shows, including “Grease,” “They’re Playing our Song” and “Shenandoah,” and as a studio guitarist for recordings and commercials as well as teaching guitar privately.
In 2009, he began writing for Just Jazz Guitar magazine, leading him to a friendship with his idol, Mundell Lowe, the late American jazz guitarist who worked often in radio, television and film, and as a session musician.
Kinigstein wrote and delivered Lowe’s eulogy at his funeral.
Lowe had chosen Kinigstein to produce his final CD, “Poor Butterfly,” which rose to #58 on the national jazz “Top 100” chart and still gets air-play in the USA and abroad.
Kinigstein’s teaching career began in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1998, where, despite a two-year battle with cancer, he was a band and orchestra director and served as chairman of instrumental music. He also created and designed the guitar course for the district. He also was a clinician on a national level, giving seminars to improve the effectiveness of guitar teachers who were working in the secondary level classroom.
A Mesa resident since 2020, Kinigstein recently completed a biography on Lowe.
He also teaches students at all levels at Music Makers Workshop and composes..
“Being a trained composer, I, of course, write my own music,” he said. “I don’t really have what I would call a definitive creative process. I do have some of my own rules to which I strictly stick. If I’m composing for guitar, I never have my instrument in my hands.
“This comes from a studious avoidance – even a fear – of composing to my own technique rather than the pure musical idea. I always let that which I’ve written sit overnight before I revise or develop it further. I never show it to anyone until it is absolutely finished.”
As he looks at his career as a performer, a highlight for him was his appearance at age 18 in the Atlanta Pop Festival in Georgia at the stadium that hosted Braves games.
“Waiting in the dugout and watching the other performers until it was time to go on, I was sitting among stars such as Frank Zappa, Steve Winwood, and Duane Allman. Albert King, my favorite blues guitar player was sitting next to me, holding his guitar. Summoning up my courage, I asked him if he was going to play my absolute, number one favorite Albert King tune, ‘As the Years Go Passing By.’
“I was shocked when he handed me his guitar and said, ‘Why don’t you?’ I had copied and learned the solo from the song note for note. By some miracle my nerves – which were already in fifth gear – didn’t force me to choke. When I finished playing it, I handed him back his guitar. He just looked at me and said, ‘That’s right boy. You’re doing it right.’ I couldn’t believe what had just happened – right in front of Zappa, Winwood, and Allman.”
He said he likes to tell his students to “get a clear idea of their musical goals.”
“These will evolve through time.” he tells them. “If you stick with it, you will achieve them.”
To learn about his lessons and those of other Music Makers Workshop teachers, call 480-706-1224, email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out mmwaz.com.