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December 18, 2014

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Master guitarist Esteban plays it inside out

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Esteban and his daughter Theresa Joy.

In the case of master guitarist Esteban, what you see is not entirely what you get.

With Esteban, you get more than what you see. You get more than the mere physical performance of an artist capable of performing any genre of music.

Sound ethereal? Inherently spiritual? That is the point.

“I’ve been in meditation for 40 years, and when you do it a lot, you understand the body isn’t who you are,” says Esteban, performing tonight and Sunday at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. “Your soul is your essence. The body helps you play the guitar and get through life, but who you are is a step beyond that.”

In the two performances, Esteban will be joined by his daughter, Theresa Joy, a talented violinist.

Click to enlarge photo

Master guitarist Esteban.

Born Stephen Paul and taught by the great Spanish classical guitarist Andres Sergovia (who used the Spanish version of young’s Stephen’s first name), Esteban is a forthright and spiritually fulfilled guitarist who gained national fame by selling multitudes of CDs on QVC more than a decade ago.

The term “go with the flow” would apply to Esteban’s approach to rehearsal and adhering to any sort of rigidity in his stage show.

“What I’m doing is introducing a lot of love in my performance, and half the time I don’t even know what I’m going to do up there. So (laughs) the secret’s out,” he says. “I don’t even rehearse with the band. I mean, I’ll do a basic rehearsal, just to get a format down. But I improvise 50 percent of the show. I just let it be guided, just let it happen. It can get very magical.”

But there is no illusion in Esteban’s aptitude. He studied with Sergovia for five years and became a fantastic classical player. He would have kept playing in that style if not for a near-death experience in 1980, when he was 32 years old and a renowned classical artist. While living in Phoenix and driving his mother home from the airport, Esteban was slammed head on by a drunk driver heading the wrong direction on a one-way street.

The guitarist suddenly couldn’t play. He suffered nerve damage in his spine, left arm and left hand. The reason he wears mask-like sunglasses today is for the loss of vision in his left eye. He spent nearly a decade working outside the entertainment industry (for a time selling solar energy systems) while re-training himself to play guitar. Extensive acupuncture treatments finally returned feeling in his hand, but the speed and dexterity he possessed before the accident would never fully return.

“I was a straight classical player when that happened, and even 10 years later, I never thought I’d come back,” Esteban recalls. “I used to be really fast on scales, and I still play fast, but not quite as fast as I used to. So I go into the heart a little bit more. I have more feeling than showmanship.

“I have a little less speed, and that’s OK with me because I can go to a different place now.”

Which would be love songs, which initially were easier for Esteban to physically execute in the early stages of his return to live performance. He played a version of “Unchained Melody” on the classical guitar and began working love songs, Flamenco, originals and rock ’n’ roll into his suddenly blossoming repertoire.

“I play rock ’n’ roll on an acoustic guitar,” Esteban says, laughing. “What can I tell you?”

The artist lives in Florida but rents a home in Las Vegas. He hopes the Cabaret Jazz dates open an opportunity to play Reynolds Hall in the near future, and he also hints strongly at some sort of residency at a hotel-casino.

“I’ve been offered a couple of things, actually, that I’ve not accepted,” he says. “But by October, I could be playing steadily in Las Vegas.”

If it happens, expect a lot of soul -- musically and spiritually.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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