Many years ago, a dear friend told me a sobering tale. To make it easier to write this, I’m going to give the characters in this story some names, imagined or otherwise. So, Jack had a friend named William who only listened to Classical music. Jack eventually got William to listen to Opera (his passion) and after some immersion William — who was up in years — came back with this reply (paraphrased): “My only sorrow is that I know that I will never get to hear all the Operas that I would like to experience in my remaining time on Earth.”
When a friend recently introduced me to the music of master Guitarist Sharon Isbin, initially I felt that same sinking sense of frustration. How could I have never listened to this amazing guitarist’s music before? How could no one I know ever have given me a head up about her?
How could I have missed that she collaborated with numerous musicians I respect such as Steve Vai … and Larry Coryell… and Laurindo Almeida! She performed with Sting in 2015 and was on the PBS national broadcast of Billy Joel: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize performing “She’s Always A Woman” with Josh Groban. I have no answers other than life happens and things fall through the cracks.
What’s that? You’re not familiar with Ms. Isbin either? Well, I’ll put it this way: she is basically regarded as the best classical guitarist in the world today. She founded and heads the guitar program at Juilliard. She is quite marvelous. The good news is I am (hopefully) not at the end of my life run so I have time to catch up, unlike Dear William. So, lets dive in…
My immersion in Ms. Isbin’s world began when I was invited to see her in concert with Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo here in San Francisco. It was a wonderful evening with both players delivering outstanding performances. I immediately wanted to know more about both her music (and that of Mr. Lubambo!). Both are fantastic players who approach their instruments from different directions.
Ms. Isbin’s publicity team kindly sent me a copy of her fine documentary Sharon Isbin : Troubadour which gave me a quick update on her career thus far. I highly recommend you check out this film for it is very well crafted with fascinating glimpses of her quite incredible life along the way. And of course it is chock-full of performances including fun clips with Steve Vai, Joan Baez, as well as with Romero Lubambo and Mark O’Connor.
And then there are the albums, of which Sharon Isbin has many. A recent one of note for fans of Vocal music and Guitar is a fascinating release called Alma Española — pairing Grammy Award-winning singer Isabel Leonard with Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin in an all-Spanish recording — which indeed won a Grammy Award in 2018! This is an uncommon recording. From Ms. Isbin’s website we learn it is: “the first all-Spanish art song recording of its kind in 40 years, including twelve world premiere arrangements by Isbin. Duos for voice and guitar, and guitar solos are heard in performances that evoke the rich and magnificent tradition of Spain.” If you like the two forms individually you should check it out; the recordings are fascinating.
So where do you start in exploring Sharon’s music? Well, if you have a subscription to Tidal that is a great place to begin as they have a number of her albums streaming in CD quality. You’ll find direct Tidal links embedded the following titles.
Her album Guitar Passions : Sharon Isbin & Friends is a cool one as it features collaborations with Steve Vai, Romero Lubambo, Stanley Jordan, Steve Morse and even Heart’s Nancy Wilson. The aforementioned Alma Espanola is up there too. I have also enjoyed American Landscapes from 2002, recorded with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. So far, as is my experience often with Classical music on CD, these actually sound very nice, warm and appealing. Its too bad so many pop and rock records have trouble creating enjoyable digital recordings.
There is much more of Sharon Isbin’s music to explore. I do plan to dig down deeper on her catalog. You should too!