“Classical guitarists like to say that the guitar can be viewed as a miniature orchestra. I like to think that the guitar can also be a miniature instrumental rock band,” says Keith Calmes, who has created a very impressive body of work by combining genres, and both writing and interpreting music as a solo guitar artist. It’s a body of work that has brought him from the hollowed stage of Carnegie Hall to the dirt and grime of CBGB’s.
Further evidence of his ability to create varied and innovative pieces of music is the fact that his most downloaded pieces on iTunes are a cover of the Hawaii Five-0 theme song, an original piece called “Parade Of Skeletons,” and a very unique version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata done on computer and electric guitar.
“Contemporary instrumental guitar is how I would label what I do,” Keith explains. “I try to create variety by mixing genres in my performances. For example, my new CD, All We Know Is Now, is contemporary classical music, and I’ve been recording electric guitar with composer Chiel Meijering on a rock project inspired by the great Link Wray, of ‘Rumble’ fame. Chiel and I are open to every genre. Next year, I have a concert at a 17th century mission in Florida, and I’ll play music from that era. I also have an upcoming concert in Maine that is an homage to the great guitarist Lenny Breau. Lenny was a model of musical diversity for me; he played jazz, country, flamenco, classical and more. I also perform frequently with flute player Marjorie Koharski, and that’s pretty much straight-ahead classical. But I’m all over the musical map. I even study Indian rhythms with a tabla player in Philadelphia named Lenny Seidman.”
While he’s based in Wall Township at the Jersey Shore, Keith originally hailed from the sunny confines of Southern California. “They have earthquakes, and we have hurricanes,” he laughs. “At the core, I’m Californian. I’m always waiting for the next earthquake and still don’t seem to understand lots of things about the East Coast, like rain in the summer, 50/50’s, and many other subtle things.”
The aforementioned performance at Carnegie Hall was probably Keith’s biggest thrill, but the CBGB’s appearance was exciting for the reason that he grew up with the punk movement in SoCal. His résumé is sparkled with a myriad of other impressive venues, including concerts at the Roerich Museum in NYC, the chapel of the United Nations, and conferences put on by the Fellowship Of Quakers In The Arts, the American String Teachers Association, and the Guitar Foundation Of America. Don’t think, however, he’s all about high society; he has also played at the Asbury Lanes, Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in Ortley Beach, and clubs in New Hope, Philadelphia and around New York City. With his band, The Neptune Society, he’s opened for legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale. “But I’ve been at this a while, doing lots of different gigs,” he adds. “I’ve played all over the place doing all kinds of weird things; Carnival Cruise Lines with a banjo, Busch Gardens Williamsburg wearing a period costume, staff church musician, playing tea hours at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, etc. I even performed as a military musician at the Pentagon, the EPA headquarters and at the National Security Agency. But the normal ideal concert for me is usually at a church or library. They just seem to support the type of thing that I do. It’s intimate and the audience is usually really attentive and appreciative.”
Upcoming shows include a series with the New Jersey Chamber Singers, and solo performances at various Jersey Shore venues. He will also be hitting Pennsylvania, Maine, Florida and California in the near future. Another big project Keith takes on annually is directing the renowned Wall Guitar Festival, which will happen May 11. “Our guest artist will be the incredible guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima, who will be coming up from Puerto Rico,” says Keith. “Carlos first blew my mind about 25 years ago. I still can’t quite figure out how he does it! He must be heard, and seen, to be believed!”
Keith is a real artist, in that his primary concern is the music, first and foremost, and commercial or monetary considerations take a back seat. “I try to get people in touch with the essence of music that has inspired me over the years,” he muses. “That’s what it’s all about to me, keeping the inner flame of great music alive and passing that torch onto the next generation.”
Over the years, Keith’s travels have brought him to some interesting places. “One of my favorite gigs was playing a wedding in Malibu for the second drummer of Guns N’ Roses,” he recalls. “We were all looking around for Axl Rose, and he never showed up. I also love to remember my days of jamming with this real heavy and crazy kid when I was attending Berklee College Of Music in Boston; a few years later I saw him on The Tonight Show. That kid was John Popper of Blues Traveler, and he just sounded great. Who knew that this kid would become such a musical great? Who knows what will become of any of us? We all have that potential for greatness.”
You can find Keith’s latest CD, All We Know Is Now, on iTunes and CD Baby, as well as his previous work. You can also find his collaborations with Chiel Meijering on iTunes, which include four albums and two EPs. Besides CD Baby, you can also get hard copies of the albums by contacting Keith through his website, keithcalmes.com, or at his live shows.