Pierre Bensusan was voted Best World Music Guitar Player in 2008 by Guitar Player Magazine Readers Choice. - Photo courtesy of Tina Korhonen

Pierre Bensusan lets each string talk

Pierre Bensusan, considered one of the world's leading acoustic guitarists, taught himself to play when he was 11 years old.

"I was so fascinated by the guitar and very passionate about the desire to express myself," says Bensusan, 54, in a phone interview, adding that passion is "just as big today as it ever was."

Bensusan will perform Wednesday, May 30, for the Siskiyou Institute. The concert will begin at 7 p.m. in the Old Siskiyou Barn, an intimate venue on Old Siskiyou Highway east of Ashland that organizers expect to sell out.

"He has an amazing finger-style, very distinctive, very relaxing and at the same time stimulating because he goes into so many areas," says Ed Dunsavage, artistic director of the Siskiyou Institute.

A native of France whose Sephardic Jewish family came from French Algeria, Bensusan uses open tuning on his guitar, called the DADGAD style, starting with the lowest string and going up a setting. He says it's "inspiring and when you strum it (open, nothing fretted), the guitar talks to you, definitely, and tells you where it wants to go."

The Siskiyou Institute website notes Bensusan signed his first recording contract at age 17, and a year later his first album, "Pres de Paris," won the Grand Prix du Disque upon his debut at the Montreux Festival in Switzerland.

Bensusan declines to type himself in any tradition other than to say he's influenced by many sources, including jazz, folk, classic and world music.

"I do my own thing and don't compare myself with others," he says. "I've sold half a million records in my career and I'm happy with that and happy that people come and hear me and want to buy CDs and keep me in their household. I try to bring a smile to enlighten life for a little moment."

The Los Angeles Times called Bensusan "one of the most unique and brilliant acoustic guitar veterans in the world music scene today." He was voted Best World Music Guitar Player in 2008 by Guitar Player Magazine Readers Choice.

"He's right up there with Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges and has been a big influence of Hedges," says Dunsavage. "It's world music, with influences from all over — French and English, Celtic and French cabaret and his own compositions."

Bensusan says he composes by "keeping it with me, letting it grow and incubate before I work with it on the guitar or write it down. And I will revisit my compositions from the past. I work on my tone all the time. I work on forgetting the guitar so I can express my music and communicate with the audience."

"He brings the audience on a mesmerizing musical journey," says Bensusan's website. "And yet, Bensusan is more than what any musician or music lover expects from a guitarist. He is a composer as well as a bilingual and a brave improvisational vocalist, melding whistles and resonant low notes with something like his own scat technique."

Reservations are required and may be made by emailing info@siskiyouinstitute.com or calling 541-488-3869. Tickets are $25 general, $20 for Siskiyou Institute members. For more information, visit www.siskiyouinstitute.com/concerts.html.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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