Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop Faculty
For those who follow solo acoustic instrumental guitar, Michael Gulezian is firmly established in the genre as one of the most significant artists of our time. And what a time it is – contemporary instrumental music is under unprecedented commercial pressure; hype and marketing dollars supercede talent, and image and personality are often mistaken for the message. By contrast, Michael Gulezian personifies a higher standard, where extraordinary talent and unadulterated artistry are the only meaningful measures of relevance.
Michael was exposed as a child to a wide palette of musical forms, from diverse cultures, spanning many centuries. His mother sang Armenian folk songs, and his father (a renowned ethnomusicologist) played ancient Middle Eastern music on the oud. Michael began playing guitar at the age of six, assimilating everything from the Hindustani raga improvisations of Ravi Shankar, to Gregorian Chant, to the rock of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Early on, the foundation was laid for the duality that informs his music to this day: rock attitude, imbued with a mystical, spiritual essence – all tempered and disciplined by a rigorous program of classical guitar training.
Michael soon discovered the early fingerstyle guitarists of the Mississippi Delta: John Hurt, Bukka White, Blind Blake, Son House, Reverend Gary Davis, and Robert Johnson. The entirely different rhythmic and harmonic modalities of that idiom exploded Michael’s conception of musical possibility. But the crystallizing moment occurred upon hearing the music of the immortal John Fahey – godfather of American solo acoustic guitar, and founder of the hugely influential Takoma Records label. Michael found many of his own influences distilled into Fahey’s idiosyncratic voice, and locked onto Fahey’s then-radical concept of acoustic instrumental guitar as lifelong medium for composition and creative self-expression.
While at Colorado’s Holy Cross Abbey, Michael studied Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and James Joyce. Their ideas and conception of freedom from linguistic convention had a profound impact on Michael’s music. Fascinated by the terrifying flow of unbridled language, Michael began writing his own songs. His influences at this point ranged from Leo Kottke to Keith Jarrett, from Mahavishnu John McLaughlin to Sun Ra. At every opportunity Gulezian took his guitar out to the fields, rivers, and mountains, lit a campfire, and played deep into the night. In Michael’s own words, the goal was “to write transcendent music, in the way that James Joyce wrote verse that transcended language.”
While still in high school, Michael met Takoma Records artist Robbie Basho at a concert in Pueblo, Colorado. Michael played Robbie an original composition, stunning Basho to the point where he not only spoke to the audience about the young Gulezian, but also contacted John Fahey. It wasn’t long before Michael Gulezian and John Fahey were in correspondence – Gulezian sending homemade tapes, and Fahey responding to the high school senior with detailed criticism, as he had done with Basho and Kottke. Fahey thus became Michael’s musical mentor.
Michael began playing concerts and released his first recording, SNOW, on his own Aardvark Records label. It received great reviews, sold out the initial pressing, and generated considerable industry attention. Meanwhile, Takoma Records had just merged with Chrysalis, acquiring international distribution. John Fahey signed Michael to a recording contract with Takoma/ Chrysalis Records, which subsequently reissued the original masters to a worldwide audience as UNSPOKEN INTENTIONS.
The disc was released to international critical acclaim. High Fidelity said it "may well be the best solo guitar album since Leo Kottke's justly renowned first effort." Guitar giant Michael Hedges acknowledged Unspoken Intentions as a major influence, and renegade artist Henry Kaiser called it "a masterwork … a white hot nova of acoustic guitar." In Guitar Player magazine, John Fahey wrote, "This record goes further and far beyond anything that has hitherto been accomplished. It is a strikingly original record. It is an epoch breaking record. Gulezian takes the previously existing ... and destroys it in order to get at the truth, or emotional reality. His songs have the ability to penetrate the already-known nature of reality and approach essence more closely. As a result Gulezian and the listener get caught up in the truth and lose themselves in it. Thus the listener to this record identifies himself, and to some extent becomes one with something greater and more powerful than oneself ... one finds oneself in a truer contemplation of the nature of vastness and emptiness. Dreamlike and amorphous sounding on first listening, we soon discover the core of beauty and truth in this music and discover its subtle integrity and essential musicality. For that which we thought was a dream, is indeed the heart of reality, that for which we have been searching.
After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Arizona with degrees in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Michael once again established his own independent label, Timbreline Music, in the 1990s. To this day Michael tours constantly, performing at concert halls, festivals, and at hundreds of colleges and universities. It is visually breathtaking to watch Michael play - his cutting edge virtuosity, commanding stage presence, offbeat humor, and genuine humility has won him a reputation for excellence and a steadily growing audience. Michael is recognized as an articulate, passionate, outspoken, and experienced advocate for independent artists and indie labels, and is also in demand for guitar workshops and master classes.
But ultimately it’s about the music. Every one of Michael’s Timbreline releases has raised the aesthetic of contemporary solo acoustic guitar to a new level. The praise has been constant and unanimous. DISTANT MEMORIES AND DREAMS (1992) spent an astonishing thirteen months in heavy rotation on Public Radio International's Echoes program, and was named runner up "Disc Of The Year" (New Age) by CD Review Magazine. THE DARE OF AN ANGEL (1996) found Michael in the company of Grammy award winning violinist Charlie Bisharat, platinum-level pianist Ira Stein, and the incredible bassist Michael Manring. Dirty Linen wrote, "Gulezian messes with space and time in ways French composer Erik Satie could only dream of,” and Fingerstyle Guitar raved, "Gulezian's music meets and exceeds anything being offered by the 'real' industry."
For all the airplay, accolades, recognition, and encores, Michael remains most touched and humbled by the words of his late friend and colleague Michael Hedges, who called Gulezian “a great guitarist. My kindred spirit.”
Michael Gulezian was deeply affected by Michael Hedges’ tragic death. Hedges had suggested that the two guitarists record a CD together. It never happened. In its place, Michael recorded LANGUAGE OF THE FLAME (2003). In keeping with the spirit of Michael Hedges, the intent was to reflect the full range of human emotion. Gulezian states, “my primary responsibility as an artist is to use the symbolic language of music to express the deepest aspirations of humanity, in a manner that would otherwise be inexpressible."
The reviews speak volumes: Jazziz Magazine publisher Michael Fagien describes Language of the Flame as "unbelievable ... incredible ... music from another planet." Grammy award winning producer Richard Adler writes, "Michael Gulezian composes, arranges, and performs some of the most complex and emotional music ever written for solo acoustic guitar." Music Web Express raves, “With the release of Language of the Flame, Gulezian takes his place among the great acoustic guitar innovators of the 20th Century.” And in Acoustic Guitar Magazine, John Diliberto sums it all up: “Fingerstyle fire … Michael Gulezian reignites his muse with Language of the Flame. ... for all his virtuosic ferocity, [he] never loses sight of the melody, or the drama of his compositions. And he can still play sweetly. At this stage in his career, Gulezian doesn’t need to prove he can play, he just needs more people to hear his expansive and original sound." These were prophetic words – the CD immediately charted nationally at radio, concert venues grew larger, and Michael quickly found himself performing live to an audience of millions on nationally syndicated NPR radio shows West Coast Live, Echoes, and World Café.
One generation removed from the musical arabesques of his Armenian heritage, infused with the raw emotional power of the Mississippi Delta trailblazers, fiercely devoted to his art, and blessed with technical proficiency in the extreme, Michael Gulezian remains a seminal force on the cutting edge of the American solo acoustic guitar tradition.