The person who makes guitars is a luthier. Two important luthiers of the early 19th century connected with the development of the modern classical guitar are Louis Panormo and Georg Staufer. Antonio Torres Jurado is credited with creating the form of classical guitar that is still in use today. Today the fine craft of lutherie is alive and well in Santa Cruz.
Local musician Jayme Kelly Curtis has been performing in Santa Cruz for some time and among her many performances, she organized the very successful “The Joni Show” last year at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center bringing together Santa Cruz performers to pay tribute to Joni Mitchell.
Two years ago, while Jayme was at a music trade show in Los Angeles she picked up a list of guitarmakers represented at the show and was surprised to see how many of them were from Santa Cruz. Some on the list she knew were Kenny Hill, Rick Turner, Jeff Traugott, Fred Carlson, Scott Walker, Tony Graziano, among many others. The fact that so many world renowned luthiers were from Santa Cruz inspired Jayme to create a platform for their craftsmanship to be seen and heard publicly.
For the last two years, Jayme has been organizing the Santa Cruz County Art of Guitar Exhibit and Festival that is scheduled for March 2014. The six-week exhibit will take place at the Robert Blitzer Gallery with six weeks of performances at venues throughout Santa Cruz.
I caught up with Jayme to talk about the festival and Lutherie.
Kirby Scudder: What was the genesis for the Art of Guitar Exhibit and Festival?
Jayme Kelly Curtis: There are several things that inspired me. One is that I am a guitar player, I love guitars, I love the art of lutherie which is the technical term for someone who builds guitars. And I was down in LA several years ago at the NAMM show, which is a huge music trade show and I was at the booth of Santa Cruz Guitar Company which is one of our star luthiers here in Santa Cruz.
They had made a guitar to commemorate their 10,000th guitar, the guitar they made was so beautiful and I hope to have it in the show. It’s covered with inlay and encrusted with jewels. It’s a priceless instrument. But it is the way that they had exhibited that really got me. It was in a museum quality display case. So, here amongst these rowdy trade show goers is this gem of a display that you would find in the world’s best museums. It was made of glass allowing you to view the guitar from 360 degrees. I thought isn’t this interesting how they have elevated the guitar to a piece of fine art. But it wasn’t until several years later when I was looking at a catalogue of guitarmakers that I saw how many of them were in Santa Cruz. Some I knew and some I didn’t, but I thought this is worthy of a museum-quality exhibition.
KS: What is it about Santa Cruz that has attracted so many great guitar makers?
JKC: I think that they all have different reasons, but I think that’s one of the black magic interesting things about Santa Cruz. Maybe it’s the climate and I think each one of these luthiers has a different reason and I think that’s part of the magic. It is just incredible how many talented guitar makers there are in this county.
For example Rick Turner who is one of the better known luthiers here in town, he has a company called Renaissance Guitars and Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac almost exclusively plays Renaissance guitars.Renowned guitarist Alex de Grassi plays harp guitars by Fred Carlson. I hate to single out any one guitarmaker, because they are all established in their way. We’re not just talking about acoustic guitars, there are electric guitars, for example Scott Walker’s guitars are favored by people like Steve Kimock from the band Zero. Anybody who is on the inside of guitars will know about the Santa Cruz Guitar Company, Kenny Hill, Jeff Traugott, these are all famous guitar builders that happen to be in Santa Cruz.
For more information on the Santa Cruz County Art of Guitar Exhibit and Festival work go towww.purrgirl.com/aog. Kirby Scudder is the director of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Art. Details: www.scica.org