Denison Jazz Guitar Festival

Head to Denison University, in Granville, Ohio this weekend for a Jazz festival.(Photo: Jeff Gaffney)
Head to Denison University, in Granville, Ohio this weekend for a Jazz festival.(Photo: Jeff Gaffney)

Of guitarist Richard Smith, who is just 30 years old, Chet Atkins said: “He can play anything I know, only better.”

Smith became a child prodigy on guitar when he was five. He met his hero, Chet Atkins, when he was only eleven and was invited by Chet to play with him on stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. By the time he reached his early twenties, both Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed began to refer to Richard Smith as their “Hero” – and still do. He has mastered the complex styles of guitar Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, and Lenny Breau.

Fellow guitarist Tom Carroll has been hoping to get Smith to play at his annual Jazz Guitar Festival for years, and, for the 13th edition, he finally gets his wish.

For a weekend, anyway, the number 13 will be lucky, especially for those who head to Denison to enjoy the Festival. Renowned musicians, including Smith, Rick Peckham, Aaron Till, Pat Bergeson, Stan Smith, Tim Cummiskey, and Chris Buzzelli, will present concerts and fill an afternoon with clinics.

The Festival is hosted by Denison’s instructor of guitar, Tom Carroll. Saturday, October 31, starting at 11 a.m. and running until 4 p.m., a series of clinics is planned for the Burke Rehearsal Room. They will feature Carroll, Smith (Capital University), Cummisky (OSU and Kenyon), Buzzeli (Bowling Green), and Peckham (asst. guitar chair, Berkeley school of music)

Carroll, the originator and coordinator of the Festival for all its years, joined the Denison faculty in 1980 and, since 2000, has been coordinator of Jazz Studies. He plays in his own trio, and has been seen frequently in the guise of Rocket Gibraltar playing with La-Z-Boy and the Recliners.

“These clinicians run some of the most successful guitar programs in the country,” Carroll said. “Though this festival was designed primarily for the Denison music students, everything is open to the public, so anyone may bring their guitars to clinic for a chance to trade licks.”

The clinics will be followed by a meet-and-greet at 4 p.m. with the Hot Club of Nashville, featuring guitarist Richard Smith, guitarist and harmonica player Pat Burgeson, and fiddler Aaron Till. The band plays a wide range of music, including traditional fiddle tunes, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli swing standards, Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed numbers, and popular classics.

They will be in concert Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Denison professor Andy Carlson and Carroll, accompanied by bassist Doug Richeson, will open for the Hot Club.

The Sunday finale concert is at 4 p.m., and will feature Rick Peckham doing a concert of his own compositions. Peckham is an internationally known jazz guitarist, clinician, composer and writer. He has performed with George Garzone, Jerry Bergonzi, Mike Gibbs, and Dave Liebman, and recorded the album Stray Dog (ropeadope.com) as a member of the jazz collective Um. Assistant Chair of the Berkley College of Music Guitar Department, Peckham has been a faculty member since 1986, and was integral to the development of Berkley’s ear training and musicianship curricula.

Afterward, stick around for the grand finale guitar jam featuring as many musicians as the Burke Hall stage can hold. All of the concerts are in Burke Recital Hall and are free and open to the public.

Tom is good friend of mine, one of the friendships that has lead to serendipity for me. I get to meet these fantastic musicians that he brings to Denison, talk shop, share a meal with them, and get an autograph or two. These festivals are amazing, something for which jazz fans would gladly pay top dollar to see, and yet Tom, with generous assistance from Denison and the music program, does it for FREE.

If this sounds even remotely interesting to you, please come out. Tom will be stupid busy all weekend, so chatting with him is tough, but I’ll be around, as will a slate of great musicians who are there to teach, play, and entertain.

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