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Jazz Guitarists (Hopefully) Featured at Athenaeum Winter Series

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Chico Pinheiro, at the top of the list of incredible guitarists?

Jazz concert impresario Daniel Atkinson has experimented with all sorts of presentation ideas in the 32 years he’s brought music to San Diego. It’s been a while, however, since he’s dedicated a show to single-instrument music, as he’s set to do with guitar for the upcoming Winter Series at the Music Library. and Arts of the Athenaeum. “I found that concept too limiting when it came to putting together a series,” he says. “If someone really good became available and they didn’t fit my theme, I would have to pass them. It’s a series of happy coincidences that led to these four concerts that all feature guitarists.

The series kicked off this week with a rare appearance from Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, leading a trio with American bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, both Atkinson favorites. “You could say they both walk on water, musically, so all three of them are just amazing, top-notch musicians.”

On Sunday, February 6, the series continues with a Brazilian guitar duo of Romero Lubambo (Dianne Reeves, Michael Brecker) and Chico Pinheiro, whom Athenaeum fans will recognize for their past appearances with Anthony Wilson and as the frontman of his own quartet. Jazz guitar superstar Pat Metheny is a huge Pinheiro fan. “There are a lot of amazing guitarists out there,” says Metheny. “At the top of that list I would include Chico Pinheiro.”

Next, on February 23, the San Francisco String Trio, featuring former San Diegan Jeff Denson on bass, Mimi Fox on guitar and Mads Tolling on violin. Atkinson remembers being impressed with the group after surprising them three years ago as a featured performer at the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Rounding out the series on March 2 is the Oscar Peñas Quartet, featuring Peñas on guitar, Sara Caswell on violin, Motohito Fukushima on electric bass and Richie Barshay on drums. “This represents a rescheduled event due to the pandemic. We had a few. At this point, we had to reprogram it twice. I feel honor bound to present the artists who have been canceled as soon as conditions permit.

Atkinson returned to the concert presenting business with strict post-covid requirements. The Athenaeum’s Music and Arts Library is a small venue (it seats about 150 people) and limits these events to 70% capacity (just over 100) to allow for social distancing. Wearing a mask is mandatory, as well as proof of vaccination, or a negative test within 48 hours of the performance, without exception.

Atkinson is keeping a close eye on a myriad of circumstances that might necessitate a change of plans. “I just emailed Wolfgang’s management in Switzerland yesterday, just to check. He’s doing a two-night tour at the Jazz Gallery in New York, and I checked out their website. It’s always on. So far everything seems solid.

As the pandemic continues to impact the gig business, he says, protocols need to evolve. “The settings keep changing. I think the most important thing has been to stay really flexible and understand that there are inherent unknowns that can affect what we think will happen, or how it will happen. This has created a level of uncertainty that is a little daunting at times. I have become more mindful of booking for the current reality of the situation right now. Reserving larger bands with more difficult requirements in terms of transport and general logistics might be too ambitious in this respect.

“On the other hand, there seems to be a great sense of readiness for everyone to go back out there. I think artists and audiences are coming together to try to make things work. So, in a sense, it was a community-building experience.