Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Guitar Man

We spent a marvelous Sunday afternoon in the living room of an old family friend listening to a young man named Scott Schwertfeger conjure the most amazing sounds from an acoustic guitar. Perhaps it was the late sun glinting off the snow or the collections of  several generations of family photos surrounding us or the intimacy of such a small audience,  but there was some real magic in Scott’s music.

Even now, listening to his CD, I am pulled into the sounds he makes under the very inadequate rubric of Classical Guitar.  I kept thinking I was watching someone playing the harp because each time a string was plucked, the tone seemed long and full as it ran to the end of the instrument.  As one listener noted, “When I first heard Cielo on the CD, I thought it was two guitars playing.”  Even  straining to watch both his hands at play, you asked: “How did he do that?”

Scott opened with his own composition, then played works by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Andrew York. He paused several times to explain how he could change the sound by the way he placed the capo or tuned the strings (he whipped off a passable Neil Young riff as an example).  You could see why he enjoys teaching (a student, Ed Page, played a short opening set that included some wonderful Berlioz) and that he has a scholar’s affection for the music he plays and the people who created it.

When the youngster in the crowd followed some serious requests with, “Play Free Bird,” Scott came up with the opening chords and then paused to tell a great story about meeting Lynyrd Skynyrd at a hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.  It began in the lobby, with “I’m in a band.”  “I’m in a band.” Then it moved to drinks by the pool and lasted most of the night.  Actually he’s not sure when the party ended but said Skynyrd’s folks were the nicest people you’d ever meet.  Scott’s band in his traveling days was Modern Yesterday, whose debut album was produced by David Kershenbaum, who produced the soundtrack for  Last of the Mohicans, among others.

Movies are what I recalled as I listened to his hauntingly beautiful composition, Bull Run, which anchored the concert and his CD. Its mournful, bittersweet melody made feel as if I were watching the closing credits to Cold Mountain.  I hope someday he finds the film with green hills and heartbreaking stories to do it justice.

Scott’s website is www.scottschwertfeger.com.  I had a little trouble playing audio there. The Youtube videos work but the audio is tv quality.  The CD, produced by Jeff Bragg  at Jan Nichols’ Broad Run Studio in Sterling, Virginia is first rate.

Seems my rock and roll, big band rut had gotten so deep that I had forgotten the mesmerizing power of one person and one guitar.


  1. Love this. Makes me want to go to more local open mic nights because you get guys and gals like this.