by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "H & lt;/span & e's coming on a Thursday night because of all the local players," says Pam Meyer, a music instructor at SFCC and organizer of the Mike Stern Band's visit tonight. "They've got their own gigs on Friday night. And they wanna hear this guy."

People who recognize talent know that Mike Stern is a jazz guitar player of virtuoso ability. At Stern's weekly jam sessions at the tiny 55 Club in Greenwich Village, half his audience is made up of guitarists.

They can recite Stern's bio: Studied at Boston's Berklee with Pat Metheny. Broke in with Blood, Sweat and Tears in the mid-'70s. Played on three albums of Miles Davis' comeback band of the early '80s. Toured with Jaco Pastorius and David Sanborn. As leader of his own group, picked up Grammy nominations for a couple of mid-'90s albums, Is What It Is and Between the Lines.

Stern's willing to be experimental: In 1999, with Bill Frisell and John Scofield, he created a jazz guitar jamboree called, simply, Play. Two years later, despite having been solely instrumental until then, he earned his third Grammy nomination by creating the Metheny-style wordless vocals (sung by Richard Bona) of Voices.

But four years ago, Stern got downsized: Atlantic -- the label for which Stern had recorded nine albums in 13 years -- got swallowed by Warner Bros., which got swallowed by AOL Time Warner. At 52, Stern found himself without a promotional base. But in April, he signed with Heads Up, and just last month released Who Let the Cats Out?

Stern's always been the kind of musician who just wants to make enough money to travel around, practice and play. He's already performed in 19 countries this year, mostly in Europe; he also has four nights at Seattle's Jazz Alley coming up (Dec. 7-10). This will be Stern's fourth appearance at SFCC, dating back to a 1988 performance alongside the saxophone of Michael Brecker. His quartet this time includes Lionel Cordew on drums, Lincoln Goines on bass, and Bob Franceschini (a Stern side man for six years now) on sax. Of the numbers from Cats most likely to be played tonight, Franceschini's best contributions are his wailing on "Blue Runway" and his intricate interplay with Stern on "Tumble Home."

But what many of the people at tonight's concert will be watching most closely will be Stern's fingers. After all, they play a little guitar themselves. n

Mike Stern Band at SFCC's Music Auditorium (Bldg. 15) on Thursday, Oct. 5, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $23; $18, students and seniors; $26 and $21, at the door. Call: 533-3569 or 325-SEAT.

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