In the 16 years since debuting as a showcase for Central Texas guitar students, the Southwest Guitar Festival has emerged as one of the premier celebrations of serious guitar virtuosity, and this year’s lineup is among its best.
Among the standouts on this year’s bill are Judicaël Perroy, a 33-year-old French guitarist who first astonished international audiences as a pre-teen prodigy, and Michael Chapdelaine, a University of New Mexico music professor who is a rarity because he’s established himself as a world-class master at both classical and bluegrass fingerstyle playing.
Festival director Matt Dunne recalls first seeing Perroy perform in Mexico and being “absolutely blown away by him.” Dunne also raves about Perroy’s unique ability to successfully book his own gigs and manage a busy career by himself.
Chapdelaine disregards narrow purist notions about what’s appropriate for a classical guitarist and has approached The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home,” the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” and even the surf-rock classic “Pipeline” with the same immaculate technique and high level of seriousness he brings to a Bach violin sonata.
The Southwest Guitar Festival will also include locally beloved Spanish guitarist Pepe Romero, David Mozqueda & Nury Ulate, and L.A.G.Q. It runs from February 7-11, and showtimes and locations are available at Swgf.org.
During a February 5 jazz workshop/performance at Highlands High School, veteran sax player Bobby Watson told students about a conversation he once had with legendary drummer Art Blakey. Watson recalled asking Blakey about the origins of jazz, to which Blakey quipped: “Well, Bobby, one day a musician made a mistake, and jazz was born.” Watson proceeded to demonstrate the point, with a solo version of “Amazing Grace,” which found him bending blue notes into fluid, jazzy phrases.
Watson came to Highlands as part of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s “Jazz in America” program, and the highlight of the visit was seeing the undeniable enthusiasm of the school’s students (which went way beyond the usual “Isn’t it great to get out of class?” giddiness) for jazz and its history. Watson and vocalist Lisa Henry led an accomplished quintet that used both Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness” and the Flintstones’ theme to illustrate concepts of improvisation and song structure.
— Gilbert Garcia