I'm saddened to hear about the passing of the great classical guitarist Roland Dyens. He was an influence of mine when I was playing classical guitar almost exclusively and starting to think about how to play jazz on nylon string guitar. His album "Night and Day - Visite au Jazz" is to me the gold standard for arranging and performing jazz within the classical guitar aesthetic. In contrast to many classical guitarists who embrace a sort of stodgy stoicism, Dyens' colorful personality was a breath of fresh air; he was truly an original and a generational talent.
I was fortunate enough to hear him in concert thanks to the South Bay Guitar Society bringing him to San Jose, CA for a performance on October 11th, 2013 at Le Petit Trianon theater.
He began his concert with an improvisation, as he did with every concert.
What transpired over the course of the evening was a deeply moving musical experience. His virtuosity, profound knowledge of various styles of music, his choices in repertoire, exquisite interpretation and sensitivity made him a world-class guitarist. His audience interaction including humorous interjections (in speech and on the guitar) allowed him to connect to the crowd in a way that is rare for solo guitarists.
It was a a powerful performance and by intermission I was speechless. At this point in my career I had decided that while I will continue to explore nylon string guitar and solo guitar performances, jazz and electric guitar will be my primary focus. Dyens' magnificent performance almost changed my mind, though I eventually came to my senses.
After the concert, Mr. Dyens was signing autographs wearing googly-eye glasses and an In-N-Out Burger hat, like a boss.
Perhaps what interests me the most is "Roland Dyens the improvisor and arranger" rather than "Roland Dyens the classical guitarist" per se. In interviews like this one and this one he talks about knowing the "geography of the guitar" and cites fretboard knowledge as an area that many classical guitarists are lacking. His arrangements of jazz standards are clearly inspired by his improvisatory spirit and feel fresh and spontaneous. Just as some jazz musicians can sound deathly boring trying to fake classical music (assuming that it is to be played without emotional content), so do some classical guitarist's jazz arrangements come off as rigid and devoid of swing and the blues . This was far from the case with Dyens.
Wether it was his penchant for improvising, his take on jazz, his audience interaction, his purple paisley shirt rather than all black garb, or not taking himself too seriously at the autograph table, he was a rare performer in the classical guitar world who seemed to break all the right rules in all the right ways.
The beauty of it is that although artists come and go, their work continues to inspire beyond the grave. RIP maestro.