SAXTONS RIVER — Called "jazz's wandering minstrel," world-class guitarist John Stowell will be wandering into Saxtons River on Saturday when he is joined by local legend Draa Hobbs for an evening of spontaneous improvisations at Main Street Arts. Most local jazz buffs will recognize Hobbs and Stowell as soloists going back to the '70s. These two masters of the jazz guitar will be on stage together at Main Street Arts on Saturday playing standards from the American songbook and seldom heard pieces by Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and others.
Downbeat Magazine said, Stowell "plays guitar as if he were surrounded by fine crystal." Stowell attributes that compliment to his focus on the more subtle detail of harmony, sounding delicate. Stowell has played across Europe, South America, Australian and the former Soviet Union. Influenced as much by pianists and horn players as he is by guitarists, Stowell's original takes on harmony, chords and improvisation have made him both a highly demanded player and teacher. The Los Angeles Times said, "John Stowell's style with standards is a delightful departure from the road well-traveled. He transcends the label of jazz guitarist." But he is a New England boy at heart, and has family in Vermont.
Grafton guitarist Hobbs who reviewer William Ballard said "represents jazz at its best," has been performing in clubs and concerts throughout New England. He studied under the wings of jazz greats Jimmy Raney, Atilla Zoller, Peter Leitch and Gene Bertoncini and performs and tours extensively as both a band leader and sideman. He is one of the premier, contemporary jazz guitarists in the Northeast. The two met at the former Una's Restaurant in Bellows Falls when Stowell filled in for a spot there. They have played together every chance they get since then.
While Stowell is known for his improvisational style on the cutting edge of harmony, Hobbs' style is traditional. Together their shared rhythmic sense but contrasting styles makes for an interesting blend that can't be heard elsewhere.
Stowell is a big admirer of Hobbs work. He said, "Draa Hobbs plays in the tradition of classic jazz guitar, but he has found his own voice. He's a player in the moment, creating melodies and avoiding clichés. He has a warm dark sound and swings with the best of them. I love playing with him."
The admiration is reciprocated. Hobbs said "playing with Stowell has drawn me out of my traditional jazz guitar a bit, but I admit that Stowell's sense of harmony is so advanced that it is a challenge to work with him, that Stowell's style is uniquely his own."
There is a long tradition of guitar duos in jazz going back to the 1930s. Hobbs said, "Guitar duos are both very exciting and tremendously challenging. You can hear every nuance of the other guitar. It's a very delicate instrument when other instruments are not involved. You can hear every note of every chord. But, on the other hand without bass and drums you have to listen intently to each other and be really rhythmically strong. It's very demanding."
Joining the duo for a couple of sets will be Stowell's sister, vocalist Libby McCawley singing some favorites such as "Moonlight in Vermont" and " Autumn Leaves."
Stowell concluded, "I think the people will enjoy what Draa and I do together and there should be quite a bit of variety."
The concert begins at 8 p.m., on Saturday. Advance tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. To reserve your seats call Main Street Arts at 802-869-2960.