Will Ackerman reminds us to listen with our hearts

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PUTNEY — Last year, when Will Ackerman was producing a CD of three renowned guitarists, one of the musicians asked, "Why are you on the other side of the window as a producer, why not play with us?" So he picked up his Froggy Bottom guitar and did just that. That is how 4 Guitars was born. Next Stage Arts Project and Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records and Imaginary Road Studios, presents 4 Guitars, on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Next Stage Arts Project.

Ackerman, a Brattleboro resident who has lived and worked here since the early '80s, just returned from a month-long Winter Solstice tour with Windham Hill. He then had some business in Mexico, where he managed to squeeze in a few days of surfing. When he's not producing, performing or engineering, he enjoys surfing immensely and said of his recent trip, "Punta Mita, Mexico, outside of Puerto Vallarta, is a Disneyland of surf. I got spoiled in terms of waves. You go down the coast and there are 10 to 12 utterly different breaks, you go down to Mysto and there is a monstrously thick, scary-assed wave."

Ackerman is a Grammy award-winning founder of Windham Hill Records and a highly acclaimed producer of over 70 artists. Windham Hill Records created a new genre of music called the Windham Hill sound.

He was raised in Palo Alto, California and started playing the guitar at age 12. A talented musician, he has released numerous solo albums including "Returning" in 2004 which won a Grammy for "Best New Age Album." He is credited as playing a vital role in launching the careers of Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, Michael Manring, Shadowfax and George Winston.

Over the course of his illustrious career, he has been awarded 27 Gold and Platinum records in the US and internationally. Having sold Windham Hill to SONY/BMG in 1992, Ackerman has continued to produce musicians in the tradition of Windham Hill. Albums that Ackerman has recently produced have received music industry awards and chart-topping spots. In 2013 Ackerman received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 9th Annual ZMR Music Awards.

4 Guitars is made up of four extraordinary guitarists who will offer an evening of contemporary acoustic guitar music. They are Will Ackerman, Trevor Gordon Hall, Todd Mosby and Vin Downes. A recent reviewer called it "one of the most exciting acoustic guitar tours of the year."

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Trevor Gordon Hall, rated one of the "top 30 guitarists in the world under 30 years of age" by Acoustic Guitar magazine, is an innovator and acoustic instrumentalist from Philadelphia whose compositions range in style from edgy driving rhythms to soft melodic phrases. Hall is also a player of the Kalimbatar, a guitar with an African kalimba built into it, the only one of its kind in the world.

Todd Mosby is influenced by Indian music and is considered one of the finest jazz guitarists in the world. Mosby has played symphony halls, headlined jazz festivals, performed in concert venues, clubs, at charity events across the globe, and was one of the first artists invited to perform in Russia following the end of the Cold War.

Greatly influenced by the music of artists on Windham Hill Records in the late 1980s, Vin Downes continued to pursue the art of finger-style guitar technique and composition. Earning a degree in classical guitar performance and music education from William Paterson University, Downes studied classical composition and had several of his compositions performed by soloists and ensembles, including the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, Helix Ensemble and members of the Composer's Guild of New Jersey.

As he approaches 70 years old, Ackerman thinks his career should have been slowing down but he finds himself busier than ever now. When asked about his technique he explains, "I use open tuning for all of my pieces. This means that I tune the guitar in a unique way so that it resonates with my heart in that moment."

It's more of a mood or feeling he's looking for when finding and discovering a new tuning. He goes on to say that this takes the brain out of the process completely and focuses on "attaining the emotional landscape which is the most important part." He adds that "no one in the history of the world has used more open tunings than me for better or worse."

Ackerman transports four guitars with him to concerts and has a designated person who tunes each guitar for the specific piece of music being played. Ackerman plays a favorite guitar which was built by Michael Millard of Froggy Bottom Guitars just for him, called the Will Ackerman Signature Model K. It's made of Madagascar rosewood and Adirondack red spruce. Froggy Bottom Guitars was located in Newfane for many years but is now in Chelsea, Vermont. Millard says, "As a player, a producer, and an engineer of acoustic music, there is simply no other individual who has ever had the impact on the listening public regarding the acoustic guitar which Will [Ackerman] has."

Next Stage Arts Project is at 15 Kimball Hill in Putney. Tickets are $28 in advance and $32 at the door. Tickets are available at nextstagearts.org, at Turn It Up in Brattleboro and at the Putney Food Co-op. For more information, call 802-387-0102 or visit www.nextstagearts.org.


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