His guitar is his mistress
Wedding plans, a working honeymoon in Europe, and this weekend's slack key festival, are only three of the things on Jeff Peterson's mind these days. The biggest, of course, is the wedding, which will be on Maui next month, and Peterson says his bride-to-be understands his desire to take his guitar on the honeymoon.
If all goes well, Peterson will be doing more than just writing -- and serenading his bride.
"I have a friend in Paris, and we've talked about doing some music up there. We're also going to Barcelona (Spain) and to Italy, and it's going to be great to get out there and spread slack key around a little bit."
Peterson played several dates in Australia last year, and traveled to Maryland in June for the First World Guitar Congress in Maryland, where he represented the Hawaiian slack key tradition in a forum that included artists ranging from Les Paul to Richie Havens.
On Sunday, Peterson returns to the Kapiolani Park bandstand for the 22nd Annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival.
Although he'll probably stick with slack key for the festival, his repertoire also includes European guitar traditions of various eras and melodies from South America and Japan.
"I've been developing my concert program. I've played on Maui and over here, but I'd like to play more, maybe in Europe. I've also been working with Willow Chang (and) we've been talking about doing a recording."
An album with Chang will probably come after Peterson finishes recording a second solo project, he adds, and he's also considering an offer to teach slack key guitar in Japan.
"ONE THING about me is that I'm interested in a number of different types of music. I feel a very strong tie to Hawaiian music from when I was growing up on Maui. My father would play Hawaiian music and I was surrounded by it ... and that's how I got into guitar playing.
"From there, my interests went all over the place. I played in rock bands (and) I studied what they call 'studio guitar' at USC (the University of Southern California)," which is just about every genre of music that can be done in a recording studio.
"That really opened my ears up to a lot of different sounds, and I continue to study a lot of classical music and jazz. I like to bring those influences into the music when I play Hawaiian music. I think you can find a direct link between the Spanish, who brought the guitar to Hawaii, the jazz influence from the swing era and hapa-haole technique, and Hawaiian music. There's that link between those three styles, and I like to get into that when I play."
As for the age-old debate over whether it's better to learn to play by ear or with formal training, Peterson says both methods have advantages and he recommends both.
"I find it's a good combination to have a strong ear, where you can hear music and really connect with it, but then also to know the mechanics of it as well. At first, I learned all by ear. .... I'd ask a few questions and some guys would show me chords, but my main teacher was a tape deck. I would play recordings and spend hours and hours and hours studying music from recordings," he said. "Later on, I figured out what it actually all meant in music theory, but that all came later.
"That's another thing I like to bring to my music ... playing by ear, but also playing with a more formal side. When I was at a guitar festival on the mainland recently, I wrote out a bunch of slack key pieces in standard notation ... just to get it out there and get feedback, and I've been getting e-mails from amazing guitar players who have been inspired by it. ... But there's a lot that you can't communicate on paper -- how to phrase, and the spirit or the feeling behind the piece -- and that makes a good ear important."
ANOTHER ONE of Peterson's contributions to island music has been his work with shakuhachi flautist Riley Lee.
Japanese music and its instrumentation have had almost zero impact on the evolution of Hawaiian music, despite the large ethnic population here, and the duo's work has made them pioneers.
They met after Lee, a expatriate islander, told some friends he was looking for a guitarist to play a recital with him here. Peterson was recommended and received from Lee "a whole stack of music, and even some recordings to learn. I even transcribed koto parts on the guitar to make it sound like a koto.
"While we were rehearsing ... I introduced him to some arrangements I'd written out of some standard Hawaiian songs that I played in slack key, and we had such a great time that even before we played the concert, we made a demo recording of the Hawaiian music."
A record deal followed and the two continue to collaborate when their schedules permit.
Peterson noted that the ukulele seems to be more popular than slack key guitar among younger musicians at the moment, although he doesn't considered slack key to be an endangered art form.
"I teach at the university and I have some really great students who are very into slack key, so I see that inspiration is there ... and it's nice to be able to pass it on."
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