A Brief Biographical Overview with Observations in 900 Words or Less

Raised in West Los Angeles, I attended the high school made famous in the book written by David Wallechinski, Those were the days of the Folk Music Revival and names like Hoyt Axton, Joan Baez and the Limelighters were to be emulated. I progressed to Santa Monica City College and then on to the California State University at Northridge.

Upon drawing a high draft-lottery number, I took a break from college to live in San Francisco for a year. Residing above the fabled Haight Ashbury, I enjoyed the heady remnants of the 60's era. With only a few units left to earn my degree, I returned to college. This time I had the luxury of stretching one semester's work over two semesters and thereby got acquainted with the Theater Arts and Music Departments.

Apparently well accepted, I was recruited to perform in the Faculty Artist's Series production of Stravinsky's L' Histoire du Soldat ; a joint effort by the two departments. Later, I was part of an ensemble sent to Humbolt State University to represent CSUN at the Northwest Drama Conference. When a local production company asked the Theater Arts Department to send over a mime for a commercial film, they sent me. Amazingly, this was my first paying job after graduation. Moral: sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut.

By pure chance, I rented a room in a Venice, California house occupied by guitarist Peter Lang just before he signed with the legendary Takoma Records owned by John Fahey. Peter introduced me to American Folk Classical Guitar and showed me that a recording contract was within reach. Up until then, I had played guitar somewhat, but my real musical skill was playing bluegrass banjo. During my college days I was so enthused by the music of the Baroque that I transcribed the scherzos from the third and fifth Brandenburg Concertos for bluegrass banjo.

Earning a living took precedence, and after a disastrous experience in the corporate world, I took a job at a trendy "nouveau-hippie" restaurant in Santa Monica. Everyone on the floor (busboys to barmaids) had to entertain. In a show full of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor strive-to-be singers, I was doing the instrumental music of Earl Scruggs, and not uttering a syllable.

Making connections with the impressive talent pool at the restaurant, I found myself involved with a local movie company. The experience as both crew and bit-part actor gave me valuable insight into the process of creating feature length films. I recently learned that the movie ran shortly in theaters under a different title. Years later it made the list of remarkably bad films for specialty DVD collectors.

Soon thereafter, I relocated to Sonoma County, California. What I discovered was that all of my varied experience came into play in this newly developing community. I started playing my solo guitar repertoire in local cafes and dinner houses; this lead to weddings, private parties and such. Soon, I found it necessary to recruit other players (flute, violin, recorder, cello, etc) to fulfill the engagements.

The best place to find players was the local university. In order to keep up with these dedicated students, I had to develop my technical skills in a hurry. I quickly learned to compose and part-out arrangements of my guitar solos for duos and trios to include other instruments. This proved later to be very valuable. Meanwhile, I had sent out demo tapes to companies producing solo guitar music. John Fahey responded and I signed with Takoma Records. Unfortunately, the company went through management changes and my album was never produced. Eventually I was released from the contract.

When a San Francisco film company needed a musical soundtrack for two National Park Service films, my name came up. My familiarity with the best music students at the college allowed me to quickly find the required players of brass, and other instruments to add to my resource of string and woodwind musicians. By then, I was able to reference the scores of Aaron Copland and adapt some of his compositional voicings. The films have been running for the last two decades at the Point Reyes and Olympic Park visitor centers. Once again, to my knowledge, DVD or VHS copies of the films are unavailable.

The money from those projects allowed me to record my album, Excursion, on my own label. A nice write-up in Guitar Player Magazine helped me get picked up by Global Pacific Distributors for a few years. Since then, I have been playing in the fine dining rooms and wineries of Sonoma County, including ten years as music director at the Russian River Vineyards Restaurant. As entertainment director at the Blue Heron Restaurant for six years, 125 concerts featuring local and national artists were produced over a five year span. Additionally, like any good dot com boomer, I've been designing web sites since the mid 90's.

Over the years, performing and producing concerts and other events, I have enjoyed meeting and working with musicians of all levels of notoriety. But most of all, my background and experience in theater and music have shown me that humanity aspires to its highest through the creative process; and reminds me not to be overly discouraged by the political and commercial shortcomings that sadly detract from the human condition.

 


© 2007 Steve Gillman
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