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Throwback guitarists Benjamin Verdery and Andrew York highlight CSUMB’s second annual California Summer Arts program.

When Ben Verdery arranges Jimi Hendrix’s fuzzed out “Ezy Rider” or Johann Strauss’ waltz “The Blue Danube” for classical guitar, he approaches them with equal intensity. “I’m essentially creating a new piece for the classical guitar, so my concern is, how can I make this great on the classical guitar?” he asks. “Arrangements are somewhat trial and error.”

The renowned classical guitarist has been chair of the guitar department at the Yale University School of Music since 1985 and artistic director of art of the guitar at the 92nd Street Y in New York City since 2006. His collaborators include Grammy Award-winning classical guitarist John Williams (John Williams Plays Vivaldi), guitarist Andy Summers of The Police (First You Build a Cloud) and steel string guitarist William Coulter.

As part of CSU Monterey Bay’s second annual California Summer Arts event (see story, p. 38), Verdery will perform a solo recital Wednesday at the World Theater. He will also be on hand through July 7 to teach a master class in Dominguez Hall.

Along with Verdery’s repertoire of original compositions spanning 22 albums, some of his most dynamic work comes in arrangements of songs by other musicians, including many tunes you’d never expect to hear on classical guitar.

Verdery’s most recent record Happy Here features a mellow rendition of Cream’s psychedelic classic “White Room.” Though the time signature is slower than the version rocked by Baker, Clapton and Bruce, Verdery captures the essence of the tune.

“I always try to find that game changer,” he says. “When something sounds great on the classical guitar, that’s when we have something we can work with.”

Prince’s “Purple Rain,” “Kiss,” “For the Tears in Your Eyes” and “Let’s Go Crazy” are probably the most unexpected of any of the music Verdery has taken on, but they work very well – “Let’s Go Crazy’s” main guitar riff translates seamlessly to classical. “It’s important to go outside of your comfort zone,” he says. “When people stay very close to their comfort zone they don’t progress. As a teacher, if I can give [students] the confidence to go forward and believe in themselves, that’s great.”

Classical guitarist Andrew York also performs on Wednesday. Endowed with influences ranging from bluegrass to folk to jazz, the Grammy Award-winning guitarist/composer is the only USC graduate – he earned a master’s of music – to ever receive the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award twice.

“Andrew York’s eclectic writing and playing constitute one of the hippest styles in American classical guitar,” Guitar Player Magazine’s Jim Ferguson writes. “His writing projects, levels of honesty, spirit and magnetism are rare in contemporary guitar composition.”

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY

Amazing Grace is an iconic melody to say the least. I have heard so many wonderful musicians sing and play this powerful tune through the years. The one that will always amaze me is Aretha Franklin’s version on her extraordinary recording Amazing Grace. In addition, I was very moved by the Bill Moyer’s documentary Amazing Grace. To launch this web site, I am giving away my arrangement. I would like to thank Joseph Shields for generously copying the arrangement.

Ben's Arrangement of Amazing Grace (PDF)

Shangri La Series

Aloha Friends,

I hope this finds you in great spirits and health!

I am writing to inform you that soon I will be posting a series of videos of three pieces that are dear to me. Two of the three are compositions by legendary Spanish composers and the other by a legendary South American Guitarist-Composer. With that much information I will let them be surprises as we progress through the series.

How this came about was to some degree haphazard and organic. In June of this year I had the urge to record these pieces. I asked my great friend John Kiehl if I could come down to his studio and record. He, in his endless generosity, complied and we had a wonderful time recording.

I then thought that perhaps I should make guitar-video “art pieces” in which the guitar would be featured but in some exquisite location.

That led to me asking the great folks at Honolulu’s Shangri La if I could do a video shoot there.  The Shangri La was the home of the great Philanthropist Doris Duke who was a passionate collector of Islamic Art. It is unlike any pace I have ever been and is a renowned museum. Much to my surprise and utter delight the  wonderful people at the Shangri LA said yes!

At this point, I just needed a videographer. “Wait a minute…” I says to meself. My daughter just graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a BFA, maybe she will be up to the task of working with her father? Yikes, not easy for anyone!!! She said yes and the journey began. We had a blast doing the shoot at such an extraordinary location. Anyone who has visited the Shangri La after a few minutes starts to wonder “hmm…how can I live here?” It is that magical.

I want to make it clear that these are Mitsuko’s creations visually with some executive help from her older brother John. My brother Don will be posting on the various platforms with some much appreciated outside assistance.

We have now arrived at the final stage of the journey. Accompanying each video will be a short article about each of the pieces you will find on my web site under Ben’s Deep Thoughts.

In closing, I want to say what an honor it was to record these pieces and to shoot them at the Shangri La. I’m extending a huge mahalo to all who helped them come to fruition, and you know who you are.

Aloha,
Ben

 

Little Wing for you

Again - a huge mahalo for your support of my new Face Book fan page.
Here is a free download of my arrangement of Jimi's Little Wing fom my recording Branches.