5 minutes alone: Sting

(Image: © Kevin Mazur/Wire Image)

The sometime Policeman talks vintage guitars, his light-fingered offspring and the power of jazz…

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea…

“If I had to choose one guitar to take to a desert island, I’d take my custom Martin acoustic, which I adore - it’s a beautiful instrument. Before I got that one, I played a Martin from 1916 called a Ditson, which was a parlour guitar made by Martin for a music store called Ditsons out of New York and Chicago. I have two. They’re very rare, but they’re beautiful, tiny little jewels of guitars. I’ve fallen in love with the Martin custom - it’s got a nice bite to it.”

Pick a part that’s new…

I don’t think there can be any rules about how you play an instrument. Innovation is important

“I play bass with my fingers and with a pick. I often used a pick in the Police. A pick was good because we were only a trio, and I needed the bassline to be very clear, rather than rumbling and vague, so playing with a pick low down near the bridge helped the band.

“Often on record, I would double the same part on guitar as well, so it was very clear what we were doing. I don’t think there can be any rules about how you play an instrument. Innovation is important.”

Get down deeper and down…

“Music is a vast, limitless, bottomless ocean to swim in, which is incredibly exciting. I’ll never tire of that search. I don’t often give advice, even to my own children who are musicians, but I live the way I do as an example. I work hard. I practise. I’m still learning harmony. I’m still a student of music. I’m still playing exercises to keep my muscles nimble. So that’s my advice.”

The kids are alright…

“I’ve kept all the jewels in my guitar collection. My kids steal them, though. I’ll say to myself, ‘Where’s that guitar?’ and then ‘Oh, he’s got it…’ That’s fine though. They’ll get them in the end anyway.”

How I wish you were here…

“If I could have a guitar lesson from anyone, alive or dead, who would it be? Well, Jaco Pastorius is gone. I’d love to sit with Jaco in his day, and I’d love to know what he’d be doing now, if he survived his problems. It would have been remarkable. He was a drummer, too, and he played piano. I miss Jaco. I love Paul McCartney, though, so I guess it would be him.”

It feels like the first time…

I can do rock music. I know how it works, but I’m also interested in the upper partials of a chord and the way harmony works

“I watched some amazing jazz trios when I was learning to play music. On a Saturday night I’d go and play with guys who were in their 80s, playing piano and drums and old-time dance music, and you’d play standards for an hour non-stop. 

“The only clue you got about which key was going to be next was a gesture with the fingers for the accidentals. They’d do that a bar before the key change, and you’d go to a fourth below and find your key and think ‘I recognise this…’ That was hugely important for me, because I’d hear something for the first time and then be able to play it.”

There’s no limits…

“I can do rock music. I know how it works, but I’m also interested in the upper partials of a chord and the way harmony works. You can do both. Music is limitless. People say ‘It has to be rock ’n’ roll’ or ‘It has to be this genre’, but that kills music. Genre does not help music. It’s just labelling.”

Sting’s new album, 57th & 9th, is out now via Polydor.

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