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Sharon Isbin

Stupendous, faultless, finer even than Segovia.
  American Record Guide
The high priestess of the guitar.
  Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

CD Notes

Music   |   CD Notes

Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions
Program notes by Sharon Isbin
On this recording, I pay tribute to my guitar heroes, artists that I admire from the classical, rock and jazz worlds, many of whom have been great friends and performing partners. It’s our shared passion for the guitar and for musical discovery that brings us together. Our collaboration on these works, inspired by South American and Spanish roots, has led to the creation of seven premiere recordings. I invite you to join our Guitar Passions.


1. Porro
Gentil Montaña’s joyous dance is based on traditional Colombian porro rhythms. In this version for two guitars, I play both the second part created by Gustavo Colina, and Montaña’s original.

2. Sonidos de aquel dia
Among the album’s several world premieres is this two guitar setting of a solo work by Argentinian composer Quique Sinesi, with the second part written and performed by Stanley Jordan. Stanley, a hero and great friend, is brilliantly inventive as a jazz guitarist. We met and toured together in the late ’90s and I was amazed by his virtuosic keyboard tapping approach to playing electric guitar. When this project came up, I naturally thought of him. Sonidos de aquel día (Sounds from that Day) is an unpublished work I happened to hear and knew I wanted to record. After suggesting to Stanley that he create a part to play with mine, I was pleased to discover Sinesi often adds improvised instrumentals to his music. I play Sinesi’s score with an added section by Argentinian guitarist Victor Villadangos.

3. Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez
I feel very close to Brazilian music and have performed with Brazilian artists for as long as I can remember. The first such collaboration was with my friend, the late, great guitarist/composer Laurindo Almeida. Laurindo arranged the “Adagio” from Joaquín Rodrigo’s (1901-1999) Concierto de Aranjuez for us to perform with jazz guitarist Larry Coryell in a setting that celebrates a unique fusion of classical, bossa nova, jazz and rock styles. Our trio Guitarjam recorded the work and toured over a period of five years. In recording this new version of Laurindo’s arrangement, I pay homage to him and his significant role in developing the bossa nova style.
Playing Laurindo’s part is Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo whose inventive improvisations in the opening add extra spice. Steve Morse, founder of the Dixie Dregs, rocks out on the electric guitar part’s extended bossa nova section with some of the coolest playing I’ve ever heard. We met in 1985 when I invited him to perform in the international guitar festival I created for Carnegie Hall.
We all pay tribute to Rodrigo who put the guitar on the map as a solo instrument with orchestra. Rodrigo and I shared a twenty-year friendship which began when he invited me to his home in Madrid after hearing my live broadcast performance of the concerto as a winner of the Queen Sofía Competition.

4. Asturias
I had the honor of first studying with Andrés Segovia at the age of fourteen. Hearing his warm, magical tone that shimmered like a diamond from just inches away was a revelation that inspired me to explore the beauty of sound—its colors and contrasts—in my own playing. In his most famous transcription from piano, Asturias by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), he captures the music’s guitar-inspired essence to perfection. Segovia’s use of idiomatic triplets and flamenco inspired rasgueado strums add fire and flair to the outer sections, while the lyricism of the middle section evokes the sensuous yearning of a Spanish singer’s cante jondo (“deep song”).

5. Allegro
When Steve Vai and I met playing a show for the Recording Academy, we so hit it off so well musically and as friends, that an inspiring collaboration was born. Revered as one of the rock world’s greatest guitarists, he is also a remarkable composer. A few years ago in Paris, we premiered The Blossom Suite he wrote for the two of us (future recording project!), and last year when jamming at his home in Los Angeles, his spontaneous improvisation to Paraguayan composer Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s (1885-1944) “Allegro” inspired us to choose this work for the recording.

6. Dreamboat Annie
Nancy Wilson is the guitar half of Heart, the rock group I’ve loved listening to for years. One of my favorite Heart songs is Dreamboat Annie, and when I approached Nancy about doing a rendition of this with me, she was very enthusiastic. We added a bossa nova instrumental at the end to make it part of the Latin themed whole. She’s a wonderful guitarist, singer/songwriter, and would have to be included among my heroes.

7. Alfonsina y el Mar
This touching song is based on the true story of the famous Argentinian poet Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938) who took her own life at the agonizing end stage of a terminal illness. She wrote her last poem Voy a dormir (I will sleep), sent it to a newspaper, and walked into the sea. The poem struck such a chord of anguish and sympathy that Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010) commemorated her in song. When playing this solo guitar setting by Argentinian guitarist Jorge Cardoso, I’m inspired by South American singer Mercedes Sosa’s introspective and mournful rendition.

8. Chovendo na Roseira
I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Brazil’s popular music icon Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-1994), and collaborating with him on a recording of his music with my longtime friend, guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima. Carlos and I also had the honor of opening Jobim’s Avery Fisher Hall show in New York. At the Carnegie Hall tribute to Jobim following his death, Romero Lubambo and I adapted and performed Carlos’s arrangement of his lovely song, Chovendo na Roseira (Double Rainbow). Romero joins me in paying tribute to another great hero of music and the guitar.

9. Carinhoso
Alfredo Vianna, nicknamed Pixinguinha (1897-1973), was a famous Brazilian composer and performer of popular music, particularly in the choro style. In this world premiere setting of his Carinhoso, Brazilian singer/guitarist Rosa Passos interprets sensuous lyrics of unrequited love by João de Barro, and penned the part I play to accompany her beautiful, smoky voice. Carlos Barbosa-Lima arranged the guitar solos that open and close the work, and Gaudencio Thiago de Mello adds organic percussion using hand held instruments he has fashioned from the flora and fauna of the jungle, including the Pau-de-Chuva (rain stick), Boca-do-Mato (Jungle’s Mouth) and Boca-de-Barro (Clay’s Mouth).

10. O Presidente
An Indian from the Maué tribe of the Amazon, Gaudencio Thiago de Mello’s music often evokes colorful sounds of the rain forest. O Presidente takes its title from hearing guitarist Sergio Ricardo playing in the streets of Brazil to encourage opposition following the 1964 military coup. Thiago has dedicated the work to me, and he performs organic percussion to Paul Winter’s lyrical alto sax on this premiere recording. Together the three of us celebrate our years of friendship and performances in this first studio reunion since our CD, Journey to the Amazon.

11. La Catedral: Andante religioso, Allegro solemne
The prolific composer and guitarist Agustín Barrios Mangoré was nicknamed “The Paganini of the jungles of Paraguay”. Partly of Guaraní descent, he often performed wearing traditional Indian costumes. Among his compositions is La Catedral, a work said to be inspired by hearing the music of Bach played in a cathedral.

© Sharon Isbin

“Sharon Isbin—a true sorceress ... incomparable master of the guitar ...“
  Antonio Carlos Jobim
“I am enchanted by the magnificent interpretation of my works by the splendid guitarist Sharon Isbin.“
  Joaquín Rodrigo

Sharon Sitting with Guitar
Sharon with Stanley Jordan
Sharon with Stanley Jordan
Sharon with Steve Morse
Sharon with Steve Morse
Sharon with Nancy Wilson
Sharon with Nancy Wilson
Sharon with Steve Vai
Sharon with Steve Vai
Sharon with Andres Segovia, New York City, 1987
Sharon with Andres Segovia
New York City, 1987
Sharon with Steve Vai
Sharon with Carlos Barbosa-Lima and Tom Jobim
New York City 1985
Sharon with Steve Vai
Paul Winter, Sharon, Thiago de Mello
Grammy Nomination 1999
Celebrated Guitarist Sharon Isbin’s 2010 GRAMMY Award Winning, Debut Sony Masterworks Album Stars Legendary Folksinger Joan Baez and Violin Virtuoso Mark O’Connor, Featuring the World Premieres of Joan Baez Suite, Opus 144, and O’Connor’s Suite for Violin & Guitar
Sony Press Release by Jim Bessman
Recognized as “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time” (Boston Magazine) and “the Monet of the classical guitar” (Atlanta Journal Constitution), Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin makes her Sony Masterworks debut with Journey to the New World. The extraordinary recording follows a musical progression from 16th century England, Ireland, and Scotland to the shores of America, with the music of the New World represented by Joan Baez—Isbin’s first music hero—and violin virtuoso/composer Mark O’Connor.
“This ‘journey’,” explains Isbin, “brings together my passion for Renaissance lute music with the country fiddle virtuosity of Mark O’Connor, a lifelong love of folk music inspired by my parents who taught folk dancing, and with Joan Baez, whose magical voice has moved me to tears for as long as I can remember.”
Journey to the New World begins with four English Renaissance lute duets (“Drewrie’s accordes”, John Dowland’s “Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home”, “Rossignol”, and John Johnson’s variations on “Greensleeves”), with Isbin performing both duet parts. Next, two songs from the British Isles (Irish sea shanty “Drunken Sailor”, originating in the late 16th/early 17th century, and “Wild Mountain Thyme” which evokes an 18th century Scottish song). Fellow American guitarist/composer Andrew York’s haunting “Andecy” perfectly bridges the folk music of the British Isles with that of the New World.
The seven-movement Joan Baez Suite, which the late English composer John Duarte wrote for Isbin in 2002, represents his reactions to the spirit and texts of classic Baez folk songs. When Baez, who celebrates the 50th anniversary of her career this season, heard Isbin perform the suite, she offered to sing on the recording. She joins Isbin in heartfelt renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and John Jacob Niles’ “Go Way from My Window”.
Mark O’Connor’s 13-movement Strings & Threads Suite traces the composer’s own ancestral roots in Ireland down to the 13 original American colonies, followed by the eventual migration to the American West. The work effectively brings Isbin’s “Journey” to a conclusion, while musically depicting how the varied folk music styles—reels, waltzes, blues, spirituals, swing, and bebop—are interconnected. Originally written for solo violin, O’Connor adapted the suite for violin and guitar, where it receives its world premiere recording.
Journey to the New World stands out, says Isbin: “It’s one of the most unusual and creative albums I’ve ever done. It’s been percolating subconsciously for many years, because folk music was my introduction to guitar and I have been touched so powerfully by the music and voice of Joan Baez. Somehow this collaboration was meant to be—though I could never have imagined it back then!”
“Sharon’s exquisite playing allowed me to revisit and fall in love with these songs all over again.”
  Joan Baez
“The beauty and range of Sharon’s guitar creates the perfect musical setting and imagery. America and the guitar have become inseparable in their musical manifestations, and Sharon’s performance on this recording expresses these connections as richly as you will ever hear.”
  Mark O’Connor

Pictures of Sharon with Joan Baez
Sharon Isbin & Joan Baez. Clockwise:
Baez’ Home, Recording, and New York.
Pictures of Sharon with Mark O’Connor
Sharon Isbin & Mark O’Connor. Clockwise:
Recording, World Premiere at Orchestra Hall
in Minneapolis, New York Premiere.
(Photo: Rob Fortunato).

Introduction to GRAMMY Award winning Dreams of a World
by Sharon Isbin
The inspiration for this album is folk music—from the Appalachian Mountains, the British Isles, Spain, Greece, Israel, Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil. Folk music was what first drew me to the guitar as a child. Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, Burl Ives, Malvina Reynolds, Joan Baez ... these are just some of the singers I grew up hearing. My scientist/lawyer parents were avid folk dancers in their spare time and I discovered exotic new cultures in the excitement of their rehearsals and costumed performances. My first guitar was a pint-size version they brought back from Mexico when I was three years old. The crudely cut wood did not yield much of a sound, but it was my cherished prop when I dressed up as a folk singer the following Halloween.
Age 3
Age 3
I was nine when our family moved from Minneapolis to Italy for a year. It was my entry-by default-into classical guitar. My oldest brother wanted to be the next Elvis Presley, but when he learned that his teacher-to-be Aldo Minella taught Giuliani not ‘Jailhouse Rock’, he opted out of lessons. So I volunteered. A few years later, while studying dances of Lauro with Alirio Diaz and listening to flamenco music, I began my journey back to the guitar’s folk roots. Now, having traveled to some forty countries, I have come to appreciate and love the beautiful music associated with these diverse cultures that expresses the history, legends, identities, and passions of a people.

Dreams of the World
Clockwise from upper left: Sharon at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, July 1992; Jerusalem, Israel, July 1978; Caracas, Venezuela, October 1987; Ireland, 1985; Alhambra, Spain ‘Court of the Lions’ July 1992; Jungle of Amazon, January 1994 Center: Athens, Greece, July 1992
Introduction to GRAMMY Nominated Journey to the Amazon
by Sharon Isbin
My love affair with South American music started when I was fourteen and studying for a summer with the great Venezuelan guitarist, Alirio Diaz. The spontaneity, exuberance, and joy in his playing of Latin dances was irresistible. I felt an immediate affinity for this music.
This passion would lead to many exciting collaborations. Among the first was with Carlos Barbosa-Lima, whose brilliant arrangements of Brazilian and American music have contributed important new repertoire for guitar, much of which we’ve played and recorded together over the years. Our creative partnership, performances and friendship with the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim were an especially inspiring part of this journey.
In l984, I traveled to Brazil to give a recital tour at the invitation of the Brazilian government. The radiance and magic of places like Ipanema and Corcovado suddenly came to life. I began to appreciate the intimate connection between the country and its music. That same year, I was invited to perform with Laurindo Almeida and Larry Coryell in a bossa nova/classical/jazz fusion trio. Our trio Guitarjam was born, and we toured and recorded together for five years. It was a privilege for me to learn from and share in the beautiful artistry of Laurindo’s music-making during his last decade. He was a cherished friend and is dearly missed.
Our trio’s New York debut took place during a week-long festival I created and directed in 1985 for Carnegie Hall called Guitarstream International. It was there that I had the pleasure of performing for the first time with the Brazilian composer / arranger / percussionist from the Amazon rain forest, Gaudencio Thiago de Mello. Working with him created new dimensions of rhythm, color, and nuance. His wizardry at the helm of such exotic instruments as the rain stick, berimbau, jungle’s mouth and tortoise shell evoked the spirit and image of the rain forest itself.
A few years later, I made the first of several trips to visit rain forests in Costa Rica and Ecuador. Floating down the Napo River in a dugout canoe with piranhas, electric eels, and glistening crocodiles afoot, monkeys, sloths, toucans, macaws, and an occasional python in the lush foliage overhead, I was in a state of bliss. Surely, this was the Garden of Eden. I had no idea then that this experience would come to figure in my music as well.
Having experienced a taste of Thiago’s world in my travels, I became particularly fascinated with his compositions about the Amazon. We began performing in a series of projects—from concerts to a recording to my national radio series, Guitarjam. I relished bringing the rain forest and its inhabitants to life through music.
How fitting, then, that our guest on this recording would be Paul Winter. Paul’s love of nature has led him to integrate his music with a life-long quest to preserve the environment and champion endangered species. Like Thiago, his beautiful and haunting voice carries us to another world, a dream of the past and a hope for the future.
In this spirit, I dedicate the music and performances of Journey to the Amazon to the memory of Laurindo Almeida, Tom Jobim, and—on the first anniversary of his passing—to my beloved brother Neil Isbin.
  Sharon Isbin, July 20, 1997

The legendary Brazilian guitarist and composer Luis Bonfa exclaimed:
“Sharon Isbin’s Journey to the Amazon is a marvelous recording. Words are not enough to describe the work of this excellent guitarist. Instead, I prefer just to listen to her genius touch throughout, enriched by Paul Winter’s rare musical sensibility and Thiago de Mello’s creative percussion and brilliant compositions. Excellent performances by three extraordinary musicians.”
Journey to the Amazon
January 1994: Scenes from a trip to the Amazon, including
(lower right) preparing for a hike with composer John Corigliano.
Thiago de Mello, Sharon Isbin, Paul Winter
Thiago de Mello, Sharon Isbin, Paul Winter 
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