Taking Notes

A musician who values performance just as much as he does educating others is coming to Jamestown.

According to his bio, Richard Gilewitz, a contemporary acoustic guitarist, gives performances that offer much more than live music. While on stage, Gilewitz strives to offer some humor and history of the acoustic guitar from blues to folk, traditional to classical and somewhere in between.

“It’s a personality and a character,” said Gilewitz. “If you think of a singer-songwriter – they are writing lyrics and poetry to tell a story. Well, in my case while attending the University of Alabama I wanted to play the local coffeehouse; and I was so nervous about getting up there that I tried to face my fears by taking courses in speech and opera. … My mother also taught creative writing for years … and she always told me to take notes. So, I’ve been doing that since I started playing guitar, and as a result I’ve manufactured all these stories.”

For example, when Gilewitz played for school kids out in Wyoming, one of the very first questions he got was, “Are most of the people who like the music you play dead?” Gilewitz found that incredibly funny, he said. So, he quickly grabbed a pen and paper to write that down on the spot.

“I’m not really a comedian or a humorist; I’m not a raconteur or a storyteller. I don’t know what the title is – I’m just me,” said Gilewitz. “And, if people come and see me they are going to hear whatever tunes I feel like playing that night and whatever stories that come into my head – and that makes it fun.”

Gilewitz uses a unique fingerpicking style that he developed because he studied classical guitar. The attack he uses, which is the way he presents his notes, is similar in nature to Leo Kottke and John Fahey. He also draws inspiration from some early blues artists, who didn’t have Juilliard technique, such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson, he said.

“What I try to do is fuse the two worlds where I play with really good systematic technique so my fingers don’t trip over each other,” said Gilewitz. “But, then I also try to not sound too technical because those other guys didn’t have that technical training. So, if I don’t play somewhat the way they did, it won’t be as authentic. … I always tell students it depends on the nature of the tune.”

Another aspect of Gilewitz’s technique is a finger accent that he developed that is a cross between rest stroke and free stroke. Rest stroke is the act of playing a string and stopping a finger on the string above it to get power, and not doing that is free stroke.

“I’ve learned how to develop rest stroke power with free stroke technique,” said Gilewitz. “It’s kind of like a little machine, so I call the first class I usually teach at my guitar camp, ‘The Finger-Picking Engine.’ It shows how you can drive these tunes with a picking hand.”

Gilewitz will be in Jamestown today and Friday for a series of workshops and a performance. He will host two workshops at Infinity from 4-5 p.m. on both days. The lecture-style workshops are designed for all levels of player and explore a variety of elements, including: Gilewitz’s unique right-hand position, which is a compilation of the classical-style guitar teachings, and syncopated and percussive influences.

Not only will Gilewitz be in Jamestown for the workshops, but he’ll also provide an Infinity Cafe performance on Friday from 7-9 p.m. Infinity students are welcome to attend each of the workshops for free. There will be a $5 fee for non-Infinity attendees who attend each workshop. The concert at the Infinity Cafe on Friday night is a free event and is open to the public.

According to Shane Hawkins, Infinity’s executive director, Gilewitz is exactly the type of artist that Infinity strives to expose its students to because he buys into the program’s philosophy completely.

“We’re thrilled to have Richard back because his excellent finger-style technique exposes our students to a broader range of possibilities on the guitar, and he opens up their imaginations by sharing his often hilarious touring and performance stories from around the world,” said Hawkins. “But most importantly, he also understands and supports the importance of arts education and arts experiences and their ability to be catalysts for positive change in young people.”

Gilewitz is just as excited about coming to Infinity as Hawkins is to have him, he said.

“I’ve always felt that the importance of teaching and passing the torch was an unselfish act, and something that I need to do,” said Gilewitz. “Because if I just kept it all to myself and didn’t give it away, not just in performance, but sharing what I’ve learned, there might be somewhat directionless players out there – and I remember what that felt like. So, I feel compelled to have half my career performing and doing concerts while the other half is spent on education.”

Infinity is located at115 E. Third St. in Jamestown. For more information, call 664-0991, visit www.infinityperformingarts.org or www.richardgilewitz.com.