Giants Of The Guitar

Bill Mossman
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August 17, 2011
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Jeff Peterson. Photos courtesy of Jeff Peterson

Virtuosos Jeff Peterson and Benjamin Verdery trace the roots of the six-string instrument during a pair of weekend concerts

Hold on to your guitar necks and headstocks, six-string lovers. A tour de force in virtuosity is taking place this weekend as slack key master Jeff Peterson teams up with a true classical genius, Benjamin Verdery, in what promises to be not one, but two concerts to remember.

The first performance, “Echos of the Old World: The Islamic Roots of Spanish Guitar Music,” takes fans on a melodious, polyphonic journey to Europe and the Middle East as the featured artists trace the Arabic and Spanish influences on classical and slack key guitar. The first pluckings begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Shangri La on the estate of American philanthropist Doris Duke. For tickets, call 792-5503.


The second show, “Music of the Masters,” features solo and duo sets replete with original compositions, classical and world tunes and, of course, ki hoalu favorites by the two guitarists. The collaboration starts at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ Doris Duke Theatre. For tickets, call 5328765.

For the Maui-born Peterson, the concerts are the realization of his dream to pluck strings alongside the highly respected and iconoclastic Verdery. A teacher and performer at National Guitar Workshops and an instructor of a Valley Isle-based master class each year, Verdery has recorded and performed with such luminaries as John Williams, Paco Pena, Leo Kottke and Andy Summers, best known for his work with The Police. Currently, Verdery chairs the guitar department at Yale University School of Music.

Benjamin Verdery

“I’ve actually played with Ben before and studied under him, but this is special because this will be our first time doing full concerts together,” says Peterson, an accomplished slack key, jazz and classical guitarist who’s released six solo albums to date, including last year’s Hoku Award-winning album, Maui On My Mind.

“These shows are the result of a lot of research. We’ll cover a lot of different genres from an African piece and Ben’s own arrangement of a Tibetan prayer song, to three songs from Keola Beamer. We hope the concerts showcase the diversity of the guitar.”

Musical Notes tracked down Peterson and got him to further elaborate about his ever-expanding work with Verdery.

MN: Are you and Ben planning more concerts in the near future?

JP: We’re doing a few private concerts on Oahu after these shows and then we’re off to perform at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Aug. 25. We’re also thinking of doing a concert at Yale University, where Ben teaches.

Michael Paulo

MN: How long have you been a fan of Ben? When did you first meet?

JP: I became a fan of his back when I was at Baldwin High School. At the time, Ben used to write a column for Guitar Player magazine and I learned so much from his columns about repertoire, technique and music theory. Finally about 10 years ago, after I was already living on Oahu, I found out he was teaching a master class on Maui. Without even contacting him or signing up, I jumped on a plane and showed up for the class. We’ve been good friends ever since.

MN: What impresses you most about Ben’s playing?

JP: He’s got a phenomenal understanding of phrasing and he’s able to bring every tone and color out of a guitar. He’s also a student of music, having studied with those who don’t play the guitar, which I think is very smart.

MN: At what age did you discover the guitar?

Euge Groove

JP: I was probably 6 or 7 at the time and there was an immediate connection to the instrument. My father, Bard Sr., was a cowboy at Haleakala Ranch and he would enjoy playing old Hawaiian songs after coming home from work. My dad would teach me some things on the guitar and I would also learn on my own, little by little. When I was 12, I got my first electric and acoustic guitars. That’s when I started getting real serious about the instrument.

SMALL-KINE notes:

There’s more to this weekend than just the guitar stylings of Jeff Peterson and Benjamin Verdery.

Saxophonists extraordinaire Euge Groove and Paul Brown bring their seductive rhythms to the Hawaii Convention Center’s Liliu Theater Saturday for an evening of smooth jazz music, courtesy of former Kalapana/Al Jarreau saxophonist Michael Paulo. Groove, who’s probably best known for his sax work on Expose’s early ‘90s hits Seasons Change and I’ll Never Get Over You (Getting Over Me), will perform tracks from his latest release S7EVEN LARGE, as well as from his Billboard Jazz charttopper Born to Groove. Meanwhile, expect the Grammy Award-winning Brown and the always versatile Paulo to light up the stage with a melodic feast sure to satisfy the hungriest of jazz appetites. The smooth offerings begin at 8 ...

John Keawe

Don’t waste your Saturday away alone in Margaritaville. Head on over to Jimmy Buffett’s at the Waikiki Beachcomber, where you can join the crowds at the annual fundraising event, “Late Summer Membership Bash,” which will feature singer/songwriter Scotty Bryan performing all the Jimmy Buffet favorites. The show runs from 3 to 8 p.m., and proceeds go to USO Hawaii ... Finally on Saturday between 5 and 8 p.m., five local groups will duke it out for the third annual “Kani Ka Pila Grille Talent Search” title inside the Neal Blaisdell Center’s Pikake Room. The winner among this year’s finalists -


Ke Kani Nahe, Ke Oahu, Kaiholu, Honolulu Lounge Lizards and LiiNUI earns a monthlong gig at Kani Ka Pila Grille and studio time at Honolulu Community College’s Mike Curb MELE Studios ... On Sunday, check out ki hoalu masters Ledward Kaapana, John Keawe, Makana and more at the 29th annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival. The Honolulu StarAdvertiser-sponsored event runs from noon to 6 p.m. at Kapiolani Park.


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