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Pierre Bensusan

Press Release

French Guitarist Shares An International Sound
by Bill Kramer

It's pretty high praise to live up to being called "the Mozart of the guitar," as Pierre Bensusan has
been characterized. The modest French-Algerian guitarist, who will grace the stage at Mockingbird on
May 10, probably wouldn't call himself such a thing, though you might after hearing him play. His
acoustic guitar playing is known worldwide, and his influence is felt by many who never even heard
his name or his music; it is that pervasive. The best music eludes genre-defining labels, though it
sometimes helps us to decide if we want to hear an artist we might not have heard.
Bensusan's music is elusive enough to defy the defined compartments, but it touches on jazz, Celtic,
American folk, world music, classical chamber music and just about anything in between. Just his
American influences include such a diverse list as Ry Cooder, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimi Hendrix,
Wes Montgomery and many others. Music is said to be the universal language.
If so, Bensusan is quite fluent. A few weeks ago, he took time from London to respond via email to
some questions about his art, musical approach to composition, collaboration and other subjects.
Even his responses are as musical as they are thoughtful and enthusiastic. His answer to a query on
adapting his music to different places and Americans' response to his music was almost as eloquent
as his playing.
 
"In my experience, people's way of reacting to music or art in general is a function of the culture in
which they evolve. Taking the U.S. alone, it's not the same all throughout, where you have very
different geographies, cities, more rural, etc. I do not change the music in function of where I play. I
tell people that very story I want to share with them, whether I play in Europe, America, Austrailia or
China. What always amazes me in the U.S. is the open mind and heart of most people I play for.
They really make themselves totally available, with depth in their listening and warmth in their
response. And yet, I could say that about all the audiences I play for. Screaming standing ovations,
and sometimes people in the crowd talking to me, are probably a very American thing, though."
Though Bensusan will be playing solo acoustic in his Mockingbird appearance, he has collaborated
with many artists in his 35 years as a recording artist, among them David Grisman, Doc Watson,
Larry Corryell, Leo Kottke, John Renbourn and David Bromberg. He explained the differences of
playing with others and solo, and the effects of both on his approach.
 
"Playing with other people is challenging in the way where it forces me to go outside of my grid and
play music in a different functional way. In order to become complimentary and find different spaces,
voicings on my guitar that would fill available space that themselves might change all the time.
Whereas alone, I can establish my own foundations and build the way I feel right, which is still
obeying to the same musical agenda, so to speak."
 
All musicians compose in different ways. For some, it's a matter of discipline, of sitting down and
concentrating on developing musical ideas and expanding upon them. For others, it's more of an
intuitive type of process whereas they await the striking of the muse and then setting the ideas to
music. For Bensusan, it's a matter of both.
 
"Ideas can incubate within me for years before attempting to come out, and at times, they would start
emerging in improv, which later could become compositions. I am reluctant to put any music into the
cage of the written process, but it's difficult to avoid. So I write a lot and improvise a lot. Music is free
and keeps coming and going, until it tells me 'I like you, let's ride a bit together!'"
 
Someone whose playing is as free-flowing as his certainly includes parts that are articulated "in the
moment" and can depart for a bit from the original piece. It's a mark of confident musicians when they
can extend themselves beyond the familiar, especially in a live performance. For Bensusan, it's all
part of the art of expression for his audience.
 
"The great jazz musicians are definitely like lighthouses for me, as much as their attitude of throwing
themselves into the unknown without freaking a bit about it, and also the way they let the music speak
to them before they instantaneously improv/compose or recompose, and never the same way twice.
To sound the same and familiar, a music doesn't have to be played the same way, with the same
notes placed at the same spots, with the same spaces between them, or even in the same key. All of
these are pretexts to create a tapestry that can be seen from either near or further away. This what
the ear 'sees' that is important, and then the interaction between the auditive and the reactivity."
With all his worldwide touring, composing and recording, Bensusan still finds the time to teach
musical theory and guitar, though he doesn't have the time to do as much for this students as he
would like. But in typical fashion, he finds it is as rewarding for him as it is his students.
 
"For me, it's a complementary activity. Important, fulfilling and introspective as much as outgoing. It's
also my way to learn tolerance, patience, humility and generosity — spread the love and the good.
The more good musicians, the happier we will all be!"
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