Benjamin Verdery

Celebrated guitarists Benjamin Verdery, John Dearman, Jeff Peterson, and Ian O’Sullivan will appear in a special concert to benefit the Hawaii Nature Conservancy on Tuesday at the Makawao Union Church.

The unique program will include solo and ensemble music from Brazil, Tibet, Hawaii and North America.

“It will be a fun guitar extravaganza,” Verdery explains. “It will be a great blend of slack key, classical and some Brazilian jazz things.”

Returning to Maui to run his 15th annual classical guitar master class which attracts students from around the world, Verdery says, “I was thinking it would be fun to have four of us all play. John Dearman, who is acclaimed for being in the Los Angles Guitar Quartet, is teaching at my master class. He’s a fabulous guitar player. We’ll do some duets including an arrangement of a Tibetan folk song and a cool Brazilian piece. Ian O’Sullivan is also teaching, and he was nominated for a Hoku this year for his album, ‘Born and Raised.’ He wrote a piece called ‘Guava Jam,’ which we will all play together. And Jeff (Peterson) has become a guitar god. He and I will do some duets, including an arrangement of two compositions by Keola Beamer. It’s going to be exciting with a lot of variety. All of us love all types of guitar playing.”

Besides the Makawao concert, on Friday at noon at the UH Maui College science building lecture theater, a free concert will be presented by O’Sullivan, Ray Zhou, and Arash Noori playing baroque guitar, classical guitar and ukulele.

“Ray Zhou and Arash Noori are two really advanced students from the Yale School of Music,” explains Verdery, who chairs the guitar department at the esteemed Ivy League university. “It will be a great opportunity to hear something unique. One of them plays a baroque guitar, which is tuned similar to a ukulele. And Ray is a great electric shredder as well as a classical player.”

An additional concert featuring Zhou and Noori will take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Keokea. And free student concerts will be presented at the Lahaina Jodo Mission on July 29, and the Keawala’i Congregational Church in Makena on July 30.

Described as “iconoclastic” and “inventive” by The New York Times and, “One of the classical guitar world’s foremost personalities,” by Classical Guitar magazine, Verdery has been acclaimed for his innovative, eclectic works.

A review of his performance at the 2008 MusicNOW festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, praised: “In just 5 minutes, Verdery created more mind-numbingly original excitement and virtuosic fire than Jimmy Page has since 1969.”

Over the years he’s released around 15 albums, including most recently, “Happy Here,” with guitarist William Coulter; and “Branches,” a solo album with works by Bach, Strauss, Mozart and Jimi Hendrix. He has recorded with Andy Summers of The Police, guitar legend Leo Kottke, the late flamenco master Paco Pena, and classical virtuoso John Williams.

Excelling at composing complex, ornate works for multiple guitars, his extraordinary “Scenes from Ellis Island,” based on a classical Indian rhythm cycle, was recorded by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Another of his adventurous works, the 18-minute “Pick and Roll,” was composed for multiple guitars, saxophone, violin and the percussive addition of a basketball player.

“I know the guitar, and I love multiple guitars and I think the possibilities are endless for guitar more than any other instrument,” he notes. “There seems to be a desire amongst guitarists to keep thinking what can you do next, what else can we do with these six strings. I get very excited about the possibilities of the guitar and what they can be played with, and I get inspired by odd combinations in general by composers that do bizarre things like with toy pianos. It may mean that no one else is going to play it like my piece for basketball. I think it’s cool to combine disciplines.”

Like many musicians of his time, Verdery was first inspired by the Beatles. “I was 7 years old living in a remote village in France and my brother came home with a Beatles 45,” he recalls. “I remember so vividly freaking out running around the room. I began playing broomsticks and tennis rackets. I tell people tennis racket was my first instrument.”

Then at the age of 18, a concert of Bach’s exalted works ignited a passion for classical music.

“I was seriously studying jazz guitar and I went to a harpsichord recital by Anthony Newman. It was overwhelming. Then I met a classical guitarist and I was mesmerized by the intricate technique. That’s what I wanted to do.”

Some years later, his recording, “Bach Guitar Transcriptions,” was lauded by a Guitar Magazine reviewer as, “Unquestionably the finest playing of Bach I have ever heard on six strings.”

Growing up with rock and loving pioneering musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Neil Young, he delights in arranging popular songs.

On his album, “Soepa,” Verdery included stunning interpretations for solo classical guitar of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” “Kiss,” “4 The Tears in Your Eyes,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”

In 2007, he teamed with former Police guitarist Andy Summers on the album “First You Build a Cloud,” which included a new version of “Bring on the Night.” And on the African inspired ‘Stone Town,’ he played the electric Stratocaster that Summers used on “Every Breath You Take.”

For his Maui concert, Verdery will feature an interpretation of Neil Young’s classic, “Cinnamon Girl.” “My next record will be all these covers I’ve done over the years like Prince and Hendrix and Elvis Presley,” he reports. “I’ve always wanted to do a Neil Young tune. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is one of the most famous guitar solos in the world, so I’ve made an arrangement built on that solo.”

Also in the works, he plans another collaboration with Maui’s Jeff Peterson (one of his former students), that will probably also feature Keola Beamer. “We’re excited about doing a record together,” he notes. “It will be based on Hawaiian themes and legends.”

Charged with a passion for playing music, Verdery’s love for his art instills his live performances with a rare exuberance.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that the listener is as important as the player,” he says. “We sometimes forget how exciting a live performance is. There’s nothing that beats a live performance, seeing someone up close doing what they love to do. There’s an adrenaline buildup because of the focus of the listener, too, and I think that’s extraordinary.”


Upwards of 25 musicians jammed the Castle Theater stage last Thursday for a tremendous finale to the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band’s triumphant show at the MACC. With the addition of 15 young Zenshin Daiko drummers and three more percussionists, Mick powered his band through an epic version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” then segued into a jubilant “Don’t Stop.”

The evening opened with our Mayor proclaiming Mick Fleetwood Day, followed by the legendary drummer and the band’s brilliant guitarist, Rick Vito, fielding a few audience questions, including Mick’s thoughts on drummers Charlie Watts and Keith Moon.

Then the quartet, including bassist Lenny Castellanos and keyboardist Mark Johnstone, immediately swung into action ripping into some mighty rocking blues Mac classics like “Oh Well” and “Rattlesnake Shake.” It was tough to rival last year’s momentous show with Christine McVie’s surprise appearance, but as the concert progressed, the addition of John Zangrando and Henry Arroyo on horns, and later Willie K and Eric Gilliom, plus the taiko drummers, vaulted it into the historic realms.

Besides the phenomenal closing, highlights included Willie jamming with Rick on “Black Magic Woman,” a ferocious take on Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” (an old Memphis Minnie blues tune) and a stunning “World Turning,” where Rick showcased his Indo-Arabic influenced slide playing and Mick, his massive drumming power.

“I do so hope we pulled it off,” Mick commented after the concert. “It seemed fun for everyone. The Band played great and of course those (Zenshin) kids broke my heart, they were so good!”