Alex de Grassi has been a unique voice in the world of acoustic guitar for the past 42 years; his innovative approach to composing and arranging for solo steel-string guitar has influenced a generation of younger players. From his first solo performances in university coffeehouses and as a street musician to his engagements at prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Montreux Jazz Festival, Alex has followed his own vision and helped lay the foundation for contemporary fingerstyle guitar. Inspired by American and British Isles folk and blues artists in his early teens, Alex’s musical pursuits soon expanded to encompass classical, jazz, and world music. He has since become known for his evocative compositions and arrangements, and for his sheer virtuosity. Using a broad palette of techniques and timbre in conjunction with his ability to weave together melody, counter-melody, bass, harmony, and rhythm into a highly orchestrated canvas of sound, Alex’s performances take the listener well beyond the instrument. The Wall Street Journal has called his playing “flawless” and Billboard hails his “intricate finger-picking technique with an uncanny gift for melodic invention.”
Alex’s career has drawn acclaim for numerous studio recordings as well as for live performances as a soloist and within ensemble settings. His 1978 recording, Turning: Turning Back (cited by Acoustic Guitar magazine among their top ten essential fingerstyle recordings), the subsequent recordings Slow Circle (1979) and Southern Exposure (1984), and his GRAMMY® nominated recording The Water Garden (1998) are considered classics of the genre. In 2006, he collaborated with Quartet San Francisco leader and violinist Jeremy Cohen to premiere an original concerto for steel-string guitar, string quartet, and string orchestra, commissioned and published by String Letter Publishing for their 20th anniversary celebration at Herbst Theater in San Francisco. He has twice been commissioned by the New York Guitar Festival to compose and perform live scores for the festival’s Silent Films/Live Guitars series. Festival director David Spelman says “Alex de Grassi is a treasure… his technical wizardry as well as his vibrant and poetic music-making make him one of the most distinctive steel-string guitarists performing today.”
His latest solo studio recording, The Bridge (released in April 2020), features six new original compositions plus arrangements of Gershwin (It Ain’t Necessarily So), Hendrix (Angel), and a pair of classic folksongs (Shenandoah, Sí Bheag Sí Mhór). Pop Matters says “The Bridge provides further evidence of his compositional prowess and his ability to fuse the heady world of virtuosity with deep emotions. His inimitable voice remains intact and as awe inspiring as ever.” His first solo guitar recording in 17 years since his Now and Then: Folk Songs for the 21st Century (Tropo Records/33rd Street 2003), The Bridge was recorded by multi- GRAMMY® award winner and TEC Hall of Fame engineer Leslie Ann Jones at the legendary Skywalker Sound studio in Northern California. “I had played on a live audiophile broadcast at Skywalker the year before” Alex explains, “and after taking my guitar out of the case and playing a couple of notes in that space, I knew I wanted to make my next solo recording there. It’s a truly amazing sounding room, and with Leslie Ann on the other side of the glass, I knew we would capture the sound of the best concert halls I’ve ever performed in. I wasn’t disappointed!”
Since 2011, the trio Tres Souls–vocalist Rocío Mendoza, guitarist Roberto Carlos and requinto player Jesus Martinez– have been serenading audiences throughout the L.A. area and beyond with their updated interpretations of bolero, a musical genre that originated in Cuba, and then became hugely popular in Mexico. Taking inspiration from “trio romanticos” like Eydie Gorme y Los Panchos, Los Tres Reyes and Los Tres Ases, then adding musical influences from their own generation, this young trio of highly skilled musicians has, according to Vista L.A. of ABC 7 television, “…been capturing the hearts of Angelinos one ballad at a time.”
Their first recording, Boleros Made in LA (2019), celebrates the classic trio sound with traditional and original songs, and also introduces some electric guitar and audio samples taken from movies made during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Regarding “sampling,” a technique often used by hip-hop artists, Martinez explains “Wu-Tang Clan was probably one of the first to do it. They sampled movies from Japan–these Kung Fu movies–and then that’s their whole style. And so, I was like, hey, we should just do Cinema de Oro, put it into our music, have it be a way to tell the story.'”
All three members of the trio absorbed the bolero tradition from their families. Rocío Mendoza says, “My parents were both musicians and singers–I listened to a lot of Mexican music, including boleros, so it’s always been a part of my life.” Jesus recalls, “Bolero music has always been part of my soul because of my dad.” His father was a professional requinto player in Guadalajara prior to arriving in California. Guitarist Roberto Carlos also attributes his father as a musical inspiration, saying, “He’s not a musician but he loves the music—he’s always listening to it, and he was the person that introduced me to boleros.”
Tres Souls has been performing all over the greater Los Angeles are, including past performances at Metro Arts Presents at Union Station, Plaza De Cultura Y Artes, Rosenthal Theater, Casa 0101 and at the Walt Disney Studios for the premier of the hit movie Coco. They performed in Broad Stage’s original cultural educational musical called “Musical Explorers” as well as for the Music Center 59th Holiday Celebration on PBS, and they have been featured on KPFK and KXLU. Their music is available on all digital platforms.
Something special happened back in 2010 when New England native Sarah Larkin and Canadian Sarah Ryan met for the first time to sing together at the Anderson Valley Grange in the wine country of rural Northern California: it was a chance meeting of two voices that would soon blend seamlessly into something resembling the fine pinot noir the region is known for. Ever since, The Real Sarahs have been working that blend into a magical tapestry of lively folk music that has been capturing the hearts of audiences everywhere they go. As Nat Keefe, singer/songwriter and producer with Hot Buttered Rum says, “It takes hard work and more than a touch of innate talent to achieve the vocal blend of the Real Sarahs.”
After a few years of experimenting with various local groups, Larkin and Ryan decided to strike out on their own. They took the name The Real Sarahs and cut a 5 song eponymously titled EP in 2013 with Mitchell Holman, the former bass player with It’s a Beautiful Day. In 2017, the duo recorded Afternoon with the Dirty Birds, their first full length album, complete with a backup band. They followed up the next year with the stripped down Headed for the Hills album that captured the authentic, raw power of their live performances by using a single microphone in a single session. They have since been joined by bassist Jen Rund who brings a complimentary energy, some folky/funky low-end, and years of experience playing with everything from jam bands to folk and rock.
The Sarahs are currently working with Grammy© nominated guitarist Alex de Grassi to produce a collection of original and traditional songs, as well as a few covers, to be released in early 2022. A generation older and having toured the world as a solo performer and collaborator with a number of groups, a string quartet, and even a few orchestras over his 42-year career, de Grassi will bring his eclectic arrangement ideas as well as his guitar and ukulele chops to the project.
The Flower Songs ensemble, (Xochi Cuicatl in the indigenous Nahuatl language of Mexico) is one of many projects that leader Christopher Garcia has undertaken in his extraordinary career as a percussionist, composer and educator. In this particular ensemble, he is joined by his daughter, Alegria, his wife Yolanda E. Delgado Garcia and composer/performer Pablo Lenero Archer. Together, they present a unique musical experience that showcases the indigenous instruments, music, and languages of Mesoamerica. Their performances transport audiences to another time and place that few have ever experienced, and, as Dr. Ezekiel Stear, professor of Languages and Culture at Auburn University has noted, “The music invites those present to look more closely at their own cultures and backgrounds, while always searching for common human ground.”
A native of East Los Angeles, Garcia and his daughter—six years old at the time–began immersing themselves in the indigenous instruments and music of Mexico and Mesoamerica around 2005 when they began performing in the pageant Our Lady of Guadalupe/Dios Inantzin, an annual event presented at the great cathedral of Los Angeles. Featuring over 100 actors, singers and indigenous Aztec dancers in the city’s largest theatrical holiday production, the pageant tells the story of Juan Diego, a simple peasant to whom the Virgin Mary appeared in 1531, on four separate occasions, in the mountains of Tepeyac near present day Mexico City.
Since then, through research of primary sources from Mesoamerica, the elder Garcia has assembled numerous pre-Columbian instruments and performed with them in concert–often accompanied by lectures on indigenous music and culture–at performing arts venues and universities around the world. Alegria grew up participating in various music and theater productions, studying opera and eventually learning to accompany her father singing in the indigenous Nahuatl and Purepecha language as well as in Spanish and English. Their collaboration culminated in Resonancia, a multi-media performance they premiered at the inaugural LATIN FEST, presented by the California Institute of the Arts in 2018. The performance, recorded and released under the same title, contrasts indigenous instruments and songs side by side with Western counterparts, creating a novel, hybrid resonance of the two worlds.