October 2019 Humerous Bolero
October’s track is “Humorous Bolero” by Jack Gates, performed by Jack and Michael Goldberg at a recent shop concert where they played both alone and together in a wide-ranging, spirited program.
Their work draws on classical, jazz, and Latin American traditions, encompassing familiar repertoire and original compositions. I’ve loved their playing for decades, and they share a soft spot in my heart for being among the first talented young players in the late 70s to make the not inconsiderable investment of acquiring one of my early guitars.
It was gratifying, and a bit startling to see the shop filled to capacity with appreciative music lovers. Check out Jack and Michael’s work and upcoming concerts at jackgatesmusic.com, and leftcoastensemble.org.
September 2019 Work
September’s track is David Widelock’s recording of his arrangement of “Work” by the quirky jazz genius Thelonious Sphere Monk ( “Wrong is right”), the second most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington. It opens his 2007 solo guitar collection “Memories of a Surprise”.
I had worked on David’s guitars for years before the stars aligned for him to come in and request I make him a classical guitar with a cutaway. I sent him home with three of my standard classical instruments to confirm that he was sufficiently charmed by my current work. He returned a few days later, saying that while he really liked them all and would surely be happy with a new guitar I would make him, he already was smitten with #58, and would like me to retroactively convert it to a cutaway guitar. This is about as tedious, exacting, and time consuming as it sounds, but all turned out well, especially for the guitar, which if anything sounded a bit more focused (we had before and after recorded examples by the same engineer).
David strings it with classical basses and low tension Thomastik-Infeld steel strings specifically formulated for classical guitars, affording a little extra bite to the instrument’s warmth. His abiding love and understanding of Monk’s music is clear.
August 2019 Rainy Sunday
July's track was “Rainy Sunday”, composed and played by Doug Young on his album “Closing Time”. Doug spent some time with one of my guitars while writing an article for Acoustic Guitar Magazine, and I was privileged to have him choose my guitar for one of his pieces in a forthcoming collection. In addition to performing throughout the San Francisco Bay area and beyond, he’s published wonderfully playable arrangements and helpful articles and books on recording and sound reinforcement.
The article from Acoustic Guitar August 2011 - click here to download PDF version
July 2019 Soneto VI
July’s track was Pablo Neruda’s “Soneto VI”, set to music by Rafael Manríquez from his album “Canto al Poeta”. Coming to the United States in the Chilean diaspora of the 70’s, Rafael graced the San Francisco Bay area with his soulful playing and soaring vocals, both solo and in ensembles. For someone with such a glorious tenor, his speaking voice was remarkably soft. I’d sometimes get a quiet call before he was passing by my shop, “John, do you have any new babies for me to play?”. He’d stop by for as long as he could, playing while I worked, filling my large shop to the rafters with the ethereal commingling of my guitar and his heartfelt music. No matter what mood I was in, it was impossible not to feel uplifted after hearing him sing.
June 2019 Kindness
June's track was “Kindness”, composed and sung by Jade Taylor and accompanied by Steve Meckfessel, a heartfelt and incisive composer as well, playing his Veranda.
While waiting at the Portland airport a few years ago to be picked up for my annual visit to friends Jeff and Cyndy, where I get my luthier batteries recharged while savoring our friendship as we all participate in an annual instrument makers exhibit, I was standing near a cheerful, engaging woman who enquired as to the contents of the two large triangulate boxes at our feet. When told they contained guitars of my construction, it took little time to learn that she was a songwriter, also living in California (Santa Cruz), and that her latest CD had a track accompanied solely by Steve playing one of my guitars. After trading CDs and a pleasant, too brief conversation, we went our separate ways.
Recently, over dinner with friends, I lamented the polarizing enmity between people of differing political views, the current lack of bipartisan politics, and the downright cruelty of legislated tax cuts and health care rollbacks yanking away barely minimal safety nets, all seemingly abetted by an increasing dearth of empathy among us all.
When the very next day the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about a Stanford professor’s book on that very subject, and a class he taught on kindness, with exercises aimed to help develop a greater capacity for empathy and its correlative kindness, I knew my next track to share.
From Professor Jamil Zaki:
“Empathy is an ancient engine for kindness, much older than our species. It is the scaffold on which human culture is built. Our house may be teetering, but we don’t have to let it collapse.”
Read his article here
May 2019 Eleanor Rigby
May's track was John Dodge and Peter Zisa playing McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby (with a cameo by Grieg), from their demonstration mini-concert at the Northwest Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibit in Portland on May 5, 2019.
John, on the left, is playing a recent short (635 mm ) scale classical of European spruce and Brazilian rosewood. Peter is playing a very (4 days old at the time) recent 650 scale classical of the same woods with a top aged at least 65 years. One of the reasons I’ve cherished having them demonstrate my instruments at the show over the last decade, beside their obvious skill, is their ability to transmit their affection for the material and their obvious joy in playing together. They’re both active in the Portland area and beyond.
Peter and his partner Yukiko also host a concert series and annual multicultural holiday performance. You can read more about them at their respective websites: www.johndodgemusic.com and www.peterzisa.com.
Also from the same session, another duet, Peter Zisa and John Dodge
play "Sous le ciel de Paris "(Under Paris Skies)
April 2019 Sheila's Waltz
April’s track was “Sheila’s Waltz”, composed and played by guitarist George Cole, who wrote it for his wife. George lives about 3 blocks from my shop and decided to take me up on my offer to borrow a guitar for any recording project. He had previously recorded the backup at Fantasy Studios, played by the wonderful Quartet San Francisco. He came about 11am, borrowed a classic size steel string cutaway, and returned by 3:30 with the guitar and a first mix with both tracks. I was moved both by the beautiful music and how well the instrument had been played and recorded, fully showing off its strengths, totally in service to the piece. The final mix can be heard on the cd, but I’m sharing that first mix here. That guitar later got to take a field trip with George to Carnegie Hall to back a flautist at a flute festival.
March 2019 Champagne Rag
This month's track of the month is Champagne Rag by Scott Joplin, gracefully played by Larry Lansburgh on his 1998 cd Larry Lansburgh, Solo Guitar. John Girton engineered the refreshingly natural recording. The album is available here.
February 2019 A Toada
This track is A Toada, by Brazilian composer/guitarist Carlos Oliveira, who plays guitar in his arrangement, with Guello (percussion); David Balakrishnan (violin); Evan Prica (violin); Mads Tolling (viola); Mark Summer(cello); and Harvey Wainapel(clarinet).
It’s available on Harvey’s wonderfully varied collection, Amigos Brasileiros, recorded with diverse ensembles of his friends both in Brazil and California. Carlos was living in California at the time and asked to borrow one of my guitars for the recording. I still remember hearing it for the first time, and how thrilled I was/am to have played even a small part in such gloriously exuberant music-making.
January 2019 Great Dreams from Heaven
This track I want to share was recorded on the first guitar I made for sale in 1975 after completing my apprenticeship. I was lucky to have it find a home with Woody Harris, who began using it in his recordings. “Great Dreams From Heaven” is his one solo cut on an acoustic album of duets of spirituals recorded with Michael Bloomfield in 1979 on Kicking Mule Records. It’s still available as part of the cd “If You Love these Blues, Play ‘Em As You Please”. Woody has worked as an editor for the music publisher Bärenreiter in Germany for most of his career, still has the guitar, and has started to play and compose again.