Nylon and steel present two different tonalities, two different modes of expression to the fingerstyle guitarist. Many concentrate on one or the other: either classical/flamenco, or folk-based acoustic playing. Muriel Anderson, however, is pushing the boundaries of both.
Anderson, once a tried and true folk and bluegrass stylist, and the first woman to win the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship, has delved increasingly in recent years into the realm of classical guitar. She has written, performed, and/or recorded with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Chicago-based women's choir Vox Caelestis, violinist Rachel Barton, and cellist Julie Adams. Her 2000 duet with Adams, Theme for Two Friends, originally released in limited editions, has just been retitled New Classics for Guitar and Cello, and re-released in an expanded version that adds needed new material to the classical guitar repertoire.
And as we gear up for the Nashville Summer NAMM show this weekend, Muriel too gears up for her annual Nashville presentation of the All Star Guitar Night (she also does one each year at winter NAMM in Anaheim, California.) NAMM, an industry trade show at which musical instrument manufacturers show retailers their newest products, serves Muriel well as an opportunity to showcase some of her most talented guitarist friends. This week's All Star Guitar Night features a tribute to Les Paul, and Mr. Paul and his jazz trio will perform, as will numerous other guitar virtuosos.
Muriel spoke with us this past Cinqo de Mayo, over margaritas in a Mexican restaurant in her suburban Chicago hometown, about the All Star Guitar Night, Les Paul, her classical compositions and commissions, her master classes and clinics, and much more. And whether you can make the Nashville show or not this weekend, don't miss a chance to win a Gibson Les Paul '58 Reissue actually signed by Les Paul himself! Click here for raffle info: Enter Les Paul Raffle Here.
Guitar.com: Your most recent CD, Theme for Two Friends, was a duet with a string player.
Muriel Anderson: With a cello player. It was guitar and cello duets. We put out a limited release recording. Now we're ready to put out the full recording, containing some new tracks. It will be released at the same time as a book, published by Mel Bay, by the same title. They're both called "New Classics for Guitar and Cello." And the book will also contain transcriptions for guitar and viola as well.
Guitar.com: Are these all your original compositions?
Anderson: Yes. There are two that are classical guitar etudes for which I've written a cello part. The rest are my original compositions.
Guitar.com: Do you play cello?
Anderson: No. Julie Adams is my cellist. She's a wonderful cellist and has a real sense of phrasing with guitar. She's living down in Nashville.
Guitar.com: You must have a sense of phrasing for the cello as well, if you wrote the parts.
Anderson: I think the music comes to my ears. I hear the sound, this way of playing. And then it's just a matter of writing it down. And Julie's very good at taking that and understanding it, and saying, 'Oh, this is what you want. Let's phrase it this way.' So it's been great to work with her.
Guitar.com: What do you mean by limited release recording? You only released a few copies?
Anderson: I only did a few copies, yes. Theme for Two Friends, was released about a year and a half ago (Editors Note: The limited release was late 2000). But I'm really happy: We've re-mastered some of the cuts that we had and added some new tracks. I'm really excited about it. It's great to be able to share the music. In the limited release we had the advantage that we got a lot of response for it. Some college professors wrote back and expressed excitement to see some new repertoire coming in for classical guitar, and for guitar and cello. And also for guitar and violist's to play. They don't often get to play a lot of solo material. The release date is July 14, 2003, and the book will be released around the same time.
Guitar.com: When you released it originally, did you pursue getting it into the hands of college or even high school music teachers, or did they just gravitate toward it?
Anderson: That just happened. With the book I believe we'll try to pursue college music professors and try to get the book into their hands.
Guitar.com: Do you do a lot of performances at universities or music schools?
Anderson: I do some, yes. And it's been very well received. Just last Saturday I performed with violinist Rachel Barton, a whole repertoire of new music that I've written for guitar and violin. We did that at the Prairie Center (in suburban Chicago). And so it's been really a great new part of my career, writing for guitar and other instruments: the different strings, I've written some for guitar and choir. I really enjoy that medium. All the sudden I have a bigger guitar, I have this great big, huge guitar now that's open to all instruments. I've written for guitar and chamber orchestra as well.
For somebody who comes from a very eclectic background where some of the music is inspired by ethnic music of all different countries - in fact my latest CD has a song in each time signature from 1 through 13/8, and that's very ethnic. Especially the 13/8 time piece, it's very Bulgarian sounding. So it's really felt natural to work that into this kind of music that incorporates the flavors of all these different places, with a classical sentiment. I think that I really derive a lot from Bach and Vivaldi with a sense of developing a theme, and creating balance, in music.
Guitar.com: How did you develop this recording with all these different time signatures?
Anderson: I was just putting together a new recording release for a special concert. The Saturday after Thanksgiving every year I play a concert in my hometown, Downers Grove, Illinois. And sometimes I'll do a special recording for that. And I was realizing that a lot of the new music that I was writing was in unusual time signatures: 5/8, 7/8. And I thought, 'I must have a song in just about every time signature.' And when I thought about it, I had something in every time signature except for 9/8. And so I wrote a song in 9/8, in fact it's a vocal - and it's probably my favorite new cut on the whole CD. It's called "The Journeyman." So once I wrote that I had something in every time signature.
For the first cut - there really isn't such a thing as 1/8 time - and so I chose a piece that I'd written, actually, on September 11th, 2001, when I heard two owls singing to each other. I was walking through the forest and I heard these two owls - one on my right, one on my left - and they were singing this very, very beautiful duet. And I remembered it, and played it on my guitar. It was kind of a timeless sort of a melody. And that's what I used for the first cut.
Guitar.com: And when will we be able to hear this?
Anderson: It's out now as a limited release. This is called Journey Through Time.
Guitar.com: People can buy your CDs through your website?
Guitar.com: And where else?
Anderson: The Journey Through Time CD, since it's limited, it's only available through the website. Or at my concerts, until a later time if I decide to release it with Valley Entertainment. Valley Entertainment is releasing my new one, New Classics for Guitar and Cello. That's the best place to start. Some of my CDs are available at Tower Records or Borders, or other places, but you can really get the best selection by going to my website.
Guitar.com: And the updated version of Two Friends, will that be through Valley?
Anderson: Yes. I'm really happy with the company. They do great work. So it's great to work with them.
Guitar.com: With the compositions that you've been coming up with for violin, for cello, for other instruments, do you plan to continue along this line?
Anderson: It seems like I'm going two directions at once, doesn't it? For somebody who comes out of a folk/bluegrass kind of background, here I'm going into the classical realm. But I think I'm going at it with a fresh approach that's been very well received from the classical world. I think it's something that's probably in the genes. I've always heard music in my head. Sometimes I will wake up and I'll be hearing a full orchestra playing a piece that I've never heard before. And so it's great to now be able to interpret that, to put that down into music, and have it become a reality.
Guitar.com: Your mother is a classical pianist and harpsichordist, so you grew up with that.
Anderson: Yes. And I'm sure that's where some of that comes from. My mother tells me that when I was still in the womb, she put her tummy up to the piano and played the piano. So I think there is something to that, that sentiment, that sense of balance from some of those great classical pieces, can really take root at a very early age.
Guitar.com: Do you have tours or dates lined up with these other instrumentalists, or is it more of a one-off kind of thing?
Anderson: Sometimes it's a series of shows, and sometimes it's just one show. I did several shows with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra quintet. And when I wrote for the women's choir, the Chicago Vox Caelestis women's choir, we did several performances. But other times it's just been a single performance.
Guitar.com: You mentioned that, with the release of the disc with all the different time signatures, that that was a very international, world-music kind of theme that struck you for that. And yet you grew up around your mother's classical music, and you gravitated yourself toward more folk and bluegrass music. Do your classical-leaning compositions have a little bit of an Americana bent to them?
Anderson: A number of people have said that, that it's definitely Americana in the way that it takes the world of music and puts it together with something that's definitively American, yet with all these different influences. It's interesting that you bring that up, because I've had several people, just recently, who said the same thing about my music.
Guitar.com: Do you think about it that way when you're writing?
Anderson: I don't think about what style I'm writing in, per se. I write the music that's in my head, that's needing to come out. All my life that's been a problem because I've never been able to put a category on my music. But I think that maybe in the end, that's something that makes it more lasting, to some extent.
Guitar.com: Tell us a little about the songwriting commissions that you've had.
Anderson: Well, the first one was for guitar and orchestra, and I wrote a piece called the Borrego Suite. So I went into the desert: Borrego Springs, California. I spent three weeks in the desert writing this piece. I finished it up, actually, in the south of France. So some of it has a little bit of a French feeling to it. But the different movements certainly have some different influences in them. The first one is more DeBussy, just kind of describing the sun coming up over the mountains in the desert, and the sounds as they come in, with the different instruments taking up the sounds. And up to the last movement is very Vivaldi-ish, very Bach-ish: It's very fast moving.
Guitar.com: Who commissioned this piece?
Anderson: This was commissioned by Bob and Vivian Keenan, in the Chicago area.
Guitar.com: Is this available on CD?
Anderson: It's not available on CD yet. It's a little more difficult to find an orchestra to record with (laughs), than a single soloist. So that has yet to be recorded. But I'm really happy with some of the music that came out of that. And of course I mentioned the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Vox Caelestis, and this recent commission for the Prairie Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, with Rachel Barton, a piece called "The Prairie Suite."
Guitar.com: Did you record that piece?
Anderson: No, but we may record that in the future. It turned out very nicely. So now I'm looking to write more for guitar and choir. I have some ideas now that are developing.
Guitar.com: So at this point, do you consider yourself a folk style guitarist, a classical guitarist? Are they different parts of your career.
Anderson: They're different parts of who I am. I do some tours with Stanley Jordan... that's a great combination too. He's one of the greatest, most individual jazz guitarists ever on the planet. So it's great to play with Stanley and do that free-form improvisation.
And so my touring career is quite eclectic. I try to really have fun with the audience. We bring in a lot of different styles. And from my writing: I think my writing is more serious, I guess, to use that term. More deeply emotional.
Guitar.com: And you're finding time to pursue both avenues.
Anderson: Yes. And they aren't mutually exclusive. Each feeds the other. And writing for the classical world, but being able to take all the influences and incorporate that into it. I feel like it's something that is, perhaps, more lasting than the performing. But the performing is important too. To share the music with the people, to share the love of the music, and the passion for the music.
Guitar.com: And you also do that through teaching. You teach at a university in Nashville.
Anderson: Belmont University.
Guitar.com: You teach private lessons through the university?
Anderson: Yes. The times of the year when my tour schedule is very tight, then I keep a very light teaching schedule. They've been very flexible. They're a great school.
Guitar.com: If somebody wants to study with you, that's where they need to go.
Anderson: Yes. And when I'm on the road, sometimes I'll take a couple of students, in between shows.
Guitar.com: These would be what are referred to as Master Classes, with just an hour or two with that student, hands on?
Anderson: Yes. And I also teach regular workshops for GHS strings. So when I'm traveling through, GHS strings will often offer a workshop. I just did one last Sunday.
Guitar.com: How often are you doing those?
Anderson: I do those quite frequently in places that I tour. So if there is a music store that is willing to host the workshop, GHS will bring me in. They've been a wonderful company and I actually really do like their strings (laughs). So it's worked out really well.
Guitar.com: When you're on the road, do you just take the one guitar with you?
Anderson: Yes, most of the time. Every now and then I will travel with a harp guitar, but that needs to be checked in luggage, and so I try to keep the harp guitar's travel schedule pretty light. And when I travel I generally ask the venues to find a nice steel string guitar for me. And as there are more and more wonderful guitar builders, wonderful luthiers in the country, more often it's possible now to find somebody with a really great instrument.
Guitar.com: So you bring a nylon-stringed guitar with you?
Anderson: Yes. I bring the guitar that's built by Paul McGill that I've used for many years. He's based in Nashville.
Guitar.com: And it's a custom made instrument built for you?
Anderson: This instrument that I tour with was actually made for another gentleman who was going through a sex change operation at the time. It's kind of a long story, but he got a crack in the instrument and so he brought it in to sell to help pay for the operation (laughs). So I ended up buying the instrument - without knowing the story behind it! I found out the story later. And as I started playing it on the road, Paul started to get requests for an instrument like this. People loved the sound of this instrument. So I met with him and he took measurements and we designed an instrument together with some improvements in the woods to give it more bass response.
Guitar.com: So that model is available to the general public? What's the model name?
Anderson: Yes. It's the Muriel model, or Paul calls it the Model M. I'm really, really happy with his building, the way they've turned out.
Guitar.com: But you still used the first one?
Anderson: I still use the first one, yeah. That's my road warrior.
Guitar.com: Even though you helped him design improvements to the other model?
Anderson: Yes. I have one. I have, in fact, serial number 1. I keep it at home. It stays in pristine condition.
Guitar.com: Is that your recording guitar?
Anderson: I do some recording on that, and I do some recording on a couple of other instruments as well. I have a steel string that's built by Kevin Ryan, and a brand new guitar that's built by a Japanese company called Moridaira. Their American version is called a Morris guitar, and I have their prototype model, which is a fabulous steel string guitar. I've done some recording on that as well.
Guitar.com: When you travel, and you bring your nylon-string, and you ask the store to provide a steel string guitar for you, do you ever run into any tough guitars - guitars that you're just not real happy with?
Anderson: No, but I always carry an extra set of strings with me so that I can put on a fresh set of strings before the show, so that I have some strings that intonate well. But by and large, there are so many people now that have good instruments, that it's easier now than it's ever been. I've never had a problem getting a sub-standard guitar. People come up with good instruments.
Guitar.com: I imagine a lot of times they're handing you Taylor and Martin guitars and things of that nature.
Anderson: And oftentimes hand-made guitars. Sometimes I'll get a Kevin Ryan guitar a Collings guitar, a very nice Santa Cruz guitar. There are a number of very good builders.
Guitar.com: Have you seen the overall quality of guitars going up over the years?
Anderson: Absolutely. I think we're really in the renaissance of the guitar, and anyone who has gotten discouraged with the stock market should just start buying guitars now. I think we're seeing some of the finest guitars that have ever been built, being built in this country right now. And I can only see the price of these guitars going up.
Guitar.com: There have been some articles in magazines I've read recently where the writer compared certain guitars vs. the stock market and the guitars were really outshining the stock market. And not just in this recent period of trouble for the stock market, since 2000, but over a long period of time.
Anderson: So there you go: There's a little bit of evidence you can give your spouse when you have guitar-buying syndrome (laughs).
Guitar.com: That's right! So what gauge strings are you using when you bring a new set of steel strings with you?
Anderson: I use the light gauge, bright bronze.
Guitar.com: How light is light -- .012?
Guitar.com: Are they coated strings or anything like that?
Anderson: No, the coated strings don't intonate quite so well. So it's just the standard bright bronze that work for me.
Guitar.com: I haven't yet played any coated strings, but I've had interviewees tell me that the sound isn't as crisp and definitive. Have you tried them at all?
Anderson: Yes, and on some instruments, some instruments take those strings very well. It just depends on your instrument.
Guitar.com: Tommy Emmanuel had a lot to say about coated strings in an interview we ran a few months back.
Anderson: Yes. It is true that different instruments will require different strings, but by and large, most instruments do well with the two types of strings that I use.
Guitar.com: Have you noticed - and again, Tommy mentioned that certain guitars seem to play better with certain brands or types of strings. Have you noticed that too?
Anderson: Yes I have. The one thing that I do to check out my strings, and you can do the same check to see if your strings need to be changed, so either strings that are not intonating perfectly to begin with, or are just too old. So if you play the string, and stop the rest of your strings from ringing, and listen very carefully to the frequency to see that it stays at exactly the same pitch. If so, that's a good string. If it has a waver, if it goes sharp and flat, sharp and flat, like 'wah wah wah wah' - like that - then it's time to change that string, or you've got a bad string. And there are some brands of strings that have that characteristic to them.
And the other thing I listen to in steel strings - actually both steel and nylon - is the amount of mid-range. Some strings give you too much mid-range. So it has a little bit of a nasal quality to the note. Either of those two things, I'm very sensitive too. That's how I check my strings to see if it's time to change them. And also to check a new set.
Guitar.com: Does the size of the core of the string make a difference to you? Some manufacturers use different size cores in their wound strings, and I wonder if you know about that or have noticed a difference.
Anderson: I guess I haven't known which strings have a larger or small core. I just know which ones intonate or don't intonate. There are some strings in fact that have that waver very fast, and when you strum all the strings together, it gives it kind of an interesting shimmer. It actually sounds very nice when you're playing a flat-picking back up, to have that shimmer in there. But if you're playing each note separately, to make a melody, they won't quite intonate. So sometimes when I'm doing some strumming backup, I might choose a string that has some of that slightly out of tune characteristic to it, to give it the shimmer.
Guitar.com: Can you name names?
Anderson: The Doctor Thomastik strings do the shimmer.
Guitar.com: And it's a quick shimmer...
Anderson: It's quick, not a slow shimmer.
Guitar.com: I wonder if that's something they intentionally designed in?
Anderson: I don't know. The other string that does that, now that I think about it, is the Laurence Juber signature string. It has both: It has that shimmer and it has a lot of midrange. So for certain types of playing that's a cool effect...
Guitar.com: And that's what he's into, string-wise.
Anderson: Yeah. But that doesn't work for the kind of slow melodic things where you want the notes to be real pure.
Guitar.com: I thought he told me his strings were cryongenically treated - the whole frozen thing.
Anderson: I believe so, yeah.
Guitar.com: Have you played that kind of string before?
Anderson: I've played with that before, and haven't had a lot of great effect with that. I think there are ways to make your strings last longer, but the initial sound of the string is more important to me than how long it lasts. So I will just change strings more often to have the strings sound the way I want them to sound.
Guitar.com: How often do you typically change?
Anderson: The nylon strings I change about every two weeks. And steel strings I generally change before every recording session or concert.
Guitar.com: Do you have any tips about changing strings? Do you do anything special when you're changing strings?
Anderson: On the nylon strings, on the three treble strings, I take a match and burn the end of it before I change it. That way, when you're tightening it up, it has much less chance of slipping out...
Guitar.com: As opposed to just a knot on the end of the string, which could tighten up and slip as you're tuning...
Anderson: Right. Yes. We're talking about the end that would be at the bridge, specifically behind the back of the bridge. Your last loop, last tuck underneath the string should be behind the back of the bridge. And then there's that little ball end from burning the string that helps to hold it in place, keep them from slipping while you're changing the strings.
Guitar.com: You burn them before you put them on the guitar?
Anderson: Yes (laughs).
Guitar.com: I would hope so (laughs). I would think so. But, you never know unless you ask. And that keeps them from slipping and going out of tune on you.
Anderson: Yes. Well, not so much going out of tune. It keeps them from slipping while you're in the process of changing strings. That's that crucial time, where if it slips it can come out and hit you - or hit the face of your guitar, worse yet.
Guitar.com: OK. More about strings? Or should we talk about All Star Guitar Night?
Anderson: Let's go to All Star Guitar Night (laughs).
Guitar.com: So you've got Les Paul and his trio coming in to the Nashville NAMM show, Friday, July 18th. Where is the performance?
Anderson: It's at the Ryman Auditorium.
Guitar.com: Is this the first year there?
Anderson: No, we did that last year, and a number of years ago we did a Sunday program there. But they actually came to us at the Ryman and said, 'What do we need to do to have you come play at the Ryman?' And we said, 'Be available on a Friday night.' And they said, 'We can do that.' And so they opened up their Friday night for us there.
Guitar.com: In years past, the Nashville All Star Guitar Night had been at a club, hadn't it?
Anderson: Yes, we were at the Wild Horse. That was when the Ryman was unavailable because they were doing shows on weekends. But now they've decided that they like us well enough to open up the venue and make Friday night available for us. So it's been great. I'm really honored that they would do that.
Guitar.com: It's a bigger venue...
Anderson: And it has history to it. That's the old Grand Ol' Opry building. And it's beautifully renovated, but still with the flavor of the old Ryman. And you can still feel the aura from the old Ryman: It has the old pews in the audience, and the backdrop. It's a wonderful place to play. They also have a great sound technician there, so we have some of the best sound we've ever had.
Guitar.com: And who else will be on the bill this year?
Anderson: We just got a call from Steve Morse, who'd like to play. And Stanley Jordan, Victor Wooten, Laurence Juber. And Chelsea Constable, a very young, upcoming electric guitarist - very young.
Guitar.com: How old is she?
Anderson: She's in her early teens.
Guitar.com: Where is she from?
Anderson: I'll have to check on that. And Seymour Duncan, who has been a regular for us. So it should be a good show.
Guitar.com: And Les Paul is playing with his trio.
Muriel Anderson's All Star Guitar Night featuring Les Paul and His Trio, Frank Vignola, Lou Pallo and Nicki Parrott Friday, July 18, 2003 Ryman Auditorium, Nashville. Also starring: Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Victor Wooten, Seymour Duncan, Hubert Sumlin, Thom Bresh, Nokie Edwards, Muriel Anderson, Bryan Sutton, Tony McManus, Brent Mason, Ben Lacy, Johnny Hiland, Peter Huttlinger, Chelsea Constable and special guests.
Guitar.com: Are the others playing in a group setting, or solo?
Anderson: Probably a little bit of both. Or either. So some of them will come up and play as a guest with Les and his trio. And some will play the first set solo. We go around like a writers in the round.
Guitar.com: Are you going to be doing two different sections of the show, like you did at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim last January, with the jazz section and then the solo section?
Anderson: We generally start with fingerstyle guitarists at the beginning, so we'll have the soloists at the beginning. Then we'll do a presentation. We'll have some special awards, some very special things for Les, in the middle of the show. And then Les will come up with his trio, and invite a couple of guests. Oh, we also have Thom Bresh. Thom has been great.
Guitar.com: How do people attend? Do they have to be attending the NAMM show to attend?
Anderson: No they don't. We have general admission tickets for sale. They can contact the Ryman box office, or http://www.allstarguitarnight.com will have all the information they need.
Guitar.com: Les Paul doesn't get around and play much, beyond Manhattan, does he?
Anderson: Absolutely not. So this is a very special thing to have him come out. We're really looking forward to have him come visit out town. He plays every Monday in New York, at the Irridium.
Guitar.com: And you've played with him a couple of times.
Anderson: Yes I have. And that's been great. I played that old tune that he recorded, called "Nola," several times. So it's really special. He doesn't travel much. I just talked to him yesterday and he said he's really looking forward to the show, and his trio is looking forward to the show.
Guitar.com: So how did you bring this up with him when you first talked to him about this?
Anderson: Members of his trio and his soundman have been attending the All Star Guitar Night for a number of years. And every time they come back and talk to Les about how great the All Star Guitar Night was from his band and his soundman over the years. Last year we honored Chet Atkins, so this year I thought, 'Well, I would really love to honor Les. He's just such a wonderful gentleman, and he's done so much for the guitar community.' So I told him we were honoring him and asked if he'd be interested in coming down, and he said, 'Yes. And I might play too, if my trio is there.' And so we brought that up and went with it.
Guitar.com: You sat in with Les last week at the Irridium. [Editor's note: The Irridium is a famous jazz club in Manhattan. The Les Paul Trio has been the a Monday night staple there for years.] What is his performance like? He's doing jazz standards and things?
Anderson: Yes, a lot of his old standards. He's got a great trio, really delightful and tight. And Les always has a lot of spontaneous humor. He could be a stand up comedian if he weren't a guitar player. So there's really always a lot of humor in his show. And he has guests up every Monday, all different types of musicians. So it's always an interesting show.
Guitar.com: When you played there with him most recently, what did you do? Do you usually sit in and jam with him, or do you do a solo thing for a few songs?
Anderson: His guests generally play one or two songs, and each time I've done two songs. And I just came back from Japan, so this time when I sat in with him I played "Sukiyaki" and "Sakura," a couple of Japanese songs as a medley. And the bass player Nicki joined in with me. And Les had a lot of funny things to say about his visits to Japan, so it was really a funny thing. There was some funny patter in between the shows. And then I played a bluegrass number that Les likes, that I've played before on his show, called "Angelina Baker," where my guitar imitates the sound of a bluegrass band.
Guitar.com: The whole band?
Anderson: Yes (laughs).
Guitar.com: Does he join in with you, or has he joined in with you before?
Anderson: He has joined in with me before. Sometimes I play "Nola," and he'll join in with a counter-melody.
Guitar.com: That's got to be a lot of fun to be playing with him.
Guitar.com: Do you have old recordings of his? Did you used to listen to him before?
Anderson: I have a few old Lps.
Guitar.com: I have a couple Lps called Chester and Lester with Chet Atkins...
Anderson: Oh yes!
Guitar.com: And those are just unbelievable recordings. Actually I have them on vinyl and they're tucked away because I don't have a turntable anymore. I'm in need of getting a couple of CD copies of the two albums Les did with Chet. Those are just phenomenal recordings.
Guitar.com: So what else is in the works for you after July?
Anderson: I had a European tour at the end of May. I'll be back again for a big concert in France. I've recorded two albums with Jean Felix LaLonde, a wonderful French guitarist. And he's played on our guitar night a couple of times, and so he now presents his own Guitar Night in France. We did it the last two years at the Olympia Theatre, which is kind of the Carnegie Hall of Paris. And this year, since he's had so much success, he's doing it at the Palais du Sport - which is a huge amphitheatre. And so we're doing that in February. Actually it's been moved up to November.
Guitar.com: Do the European audiences seem to embrace this type of music as much or more than American audiences?
Anderson: In France I think a lot of the pop music is really still guitar driven.
Guitar.com: I thought it was really more dance driven.
Anderson: It depends on what facet of pop. When I listen to the radio (in France) I hear a lot of guitar, the ballads and those kinds of pop tunes on the radio. So I think that there's a great audience for the guitar.
Guitar.com: And recording-wise, did you say you were going to get into the studio in July?
Anderson: It could even be before. I'm doing some recording with Stanley Jordan and with Phil Keaggy as well. We've been working on some music for healing. We've both been very involved in that.
Guitar.com: Stanley's involved in the music for healing...
Anderson: Yes. Stanley. And with Phil, I've worked with both of them. That's a very interesting project. Also I'm doing some recording with drummer Danny Gottlieb. It's really great to work with such fabulous musicians as the three of them.
Guitar.com: Is Stanley still in Sedona?
Guitar.com: He told me once about a little set up he was getting with which he could walk out into the Saguaro forest and record with a deck attached to him that was solar powered. Do you know anything about that?
Anderson: No (laughs).
Guitar.com: He told me this whole long story about how he's got this rig set up with which he could take his guitar and his solar powered recording deck and just wander out in the desert and play and record at the same time. You'll be in the studio though, I suppose.
Anderson: He has his own little studio there in Sedona. Or he may come into Nashville and record here.
Guitar.com: This was some years ago, but he also told me about some computer software he was writing, which was healing related. Did he finish that up, if you know?
Anderson: He's been working on some of that. And he's also programmed some very interesting software for music. In fact we played for the IBM research facility in New York one time, and after our performance he gave a lecture to the professors at IBM about this software program which he developed using APL, which is an antiquated programming language, and why they should revive that language for some more elegant applications.
Guitar.com: And how did it go over?
Anderson: It went over great. And afterwards one of the professors there, who I've been a big fan of for many, many years, came in and asked us to meet with him: Mandelbrot, who pioneered the whole field of fractals. So we had a wonderful meeting with Mandelbrot, for about an hour. So it was an interesting time.
Guitar.com: How are you interested in fractals? Do you have a background in mathematics?
Anderson: I have an interest in mathematics. It's one of those parts that I haven't pursued academically like perhaps I should have, but I think that a lot of my theories on how life is really composed of music, is mathematically based.
Guitar.com: This is way out there - but hey, wacky creative thoughts sometimes inspire useful ideas - but I've often thought about how things could be controlled through the use of music. Like say for instance, the flow of water over a damn: Engineers have to watch it and make sure that it's flowing enough if there's too much water, or slow it down if they're losing water - to prevent flooding downstream and those kinds of things. And this is just a weird example, but all of that could be controlled by musicians, if you had the right software, and through your mood of music. That would be a completely pointless endeavor, but it could be done. The concept being that you can do things with the emotion of the music that could be used to control certain real-life applications.
Anderson: Well, yeah, it's....
Guitar.com: I don't spend a lot of time thinking about this... (laughter all around).
Anderson: Well, you're hitting it in kind of a sideways way, something that not a lot of people talk about, but it's really very intrinsic to music: The cells in our body all have certain vibrations to them, and they respond to vibrations around them. So when I play music for you, you're listening not only with your eardrums, but you're also listening with every cell in your body. And those cells are responding to the vibrations of the music. So if those vibrations are coming from a good place, and if they're healing vibrations, they are going to be felt by your entire body in a good way. That's something that I'm discovering more and more in different ways: Music is more than just a pastime or something that we listen to for fun. It is really a parallel to the way life is constructed itself. Life is constructed in musical patterns, and that good music can help us in many, many ways.
Guitar.com: How involved are you in the musical healing things that Stanley Jordan is following up on? Are you quite involved in that?
Anderson: Stanley has studied music therapy in a regular way, at the university level with instructors. I have done reading on the material, and have formulated some of my own theories. So I guess I pursue that in a less formal way.
Guitar.com: Do you ever do any performances that relate to that field at all? Have you ever performed for patients in any situation?
Anderson: I haven't done that. Stanley has, I know that. He's performed for patients.
Guitar.com: There was a story on CNN.com today, one of their main headlines, about research from the University of Iowa that was released recently, which definitely tied aggressive behavior to aggressive music in our society. It was quite interesting.
Anderson: Yes. Well, I've gotten some letters and some emails from people who have found that my music has been helpful in a number of ways, specifically the guitar and cello recordings. So I think that that music has affected different people in different ways, and different applications, indirectly.
Guitar.com: It's really cool that you're in tune with all of that and thinking about the deeper side of music.
Anderson: Well, I think it's really an important part of being an all-around musician, to understand that music is a very, very powerful thing - it can be. That you want to be approaching music, always, in the right way. It's a sacred thing, music is.
Guitar.com: Where you're at now with your guitar playing, do you have the time, do you spend a lot of time, on your own, working on pieces - practicing?
Anderson: I spend more of my time composing. So my emphasis has shifted to composing, and working up the new compositions. I think that that's been an ever more important part of where I am just at the moment.
Guitar.com: How does a person get to where you're at on the instrument? A lot of work?
Anderson: (laughs). Well for me it hasn't been a lot of work. I'm almost embarrassed to answer this question, because I've always loved music at a very deep level. And when I come to play music I'm coming to it with the idea, 'Wow, I get to play music now! I get to discover this piece. I get to discover this phrase that's been eluding me for so long.' So it's a reward for me to get to my guitar, and put my fingers on the strings and play. So I consider that a reward. I don't consider that so much practicing. In doing that, I'm sure that that's one way that I've really kept the deep love of the music alive. So I don't know how to answer your question, exactly.
Guitar.com: Well, that's a very heartfelt way to answer it. Especially the reward of exploring a new phrase. That is a great motivator. I guess I do feel the same most of the time.
Guitar.com: Real quick I wanted to ask you about the letter you mentioned when we had lunch at the restaurant today. When you fly with your guitar, you carry a certain letter with you. Can you explain that for the benefit of our readers.
Anderson: Yes, I found that a letter had been written from the head of the Transportation Safety Administration to the touring musician's union, the head of musicians union 100, which allows musicians to carry an instrument on in addition to their carry-on item. So finally somebody in the aviation industry has realized that there is a difference between a priceless musical instrument and a bag of clothing, or a bag of bowling balls, for that matter. And if there is space available on the airplane, they will allow professional musicians to carry on an instrument with them. So I have found that this letter is an invaluable part of my carry-on items. This letter states that now, musicians are allowed to carry an instrument on board.
Guitar.com: And you've actually pulled this letter out a few times at the airport?
Anderson: Three times in the past two or three weeks. And people have seen that and have had more respect for the instrument, saying, 'OK, you can carry that on.' And I walk on board and it's an airplane that's full of overhead space. I could put my guitar anywhere. And to think that they would even consider checking a priceless instrument, that I could never find another one like it, that is my livelihood - and that I fly so frequently that I cannot afford to pay for a seat for it. And it doesn't even take a seat, it simply goes in the overhead. So finally somebody has acknowledged that there is a difference, and it's made a huge difference for me in flying.
Guitar.com: And people can get there own copy of this official government letter through your website, http://www.murielanderson.com?
Anderson: Yes, if they go to the "Ask Muriel" link, there is link that goes directly to a PDF file that they can print out on their computer and carry it with them on the airplane.
Guitar.com: Well Muriel, thank you very much for your time today. And we'll let people know about the All Star Guitar Night with Les Paul!
Anderson: All right, great. Thank you. I'll see you in Nashville!
About the Author
Adam St. James joined Guitar.com shortly after the website launched in the summer of 1999 and has been the site's Editor for several years. Adam is the author of several guitar instructional books, including "101 Guitar Tips: Stuff All the Pros Know and Use" (published by Hal Leonard). He fronts blues and rock bands in the Chicago area. See www.adamstjames.com for info on all Adam's books, bands, and barstool banter.