Fingerstyle guitar virtuoso Guy Van Duser has been heard on National Public Radio for many years as a player of background and theme music, and as a featured performer on Prairie Home Companion.
Since the late '70s, his many collaborations with clarinetist, saxophonist, vocalist, and pennywhistler Billy Novick have endeared him to listeners with old-fashioned tastes, for Van Duser's primary working repertoire has always consisted of early jazz, swing standards, and Tin Pan Alley pop tunes. While his lifelong respect for Chet Atkins, some early experience as a bluegrass bassist, and longstanding involvement as a sideman with country musician Bill Staines is proof of his genre-defying versatility, Van Duser is primarily a jazz guitarist who prefers and specializes in warm, reassuring pop and jazz melodies from the '30s.
Guy Van Duser was born in 1948, the son of a concert pianist and a food service worker. As a perceptive, impressionable youngster in upstate New York, he received some instruction on piano and accordion and engaged in guitar duets with his father while coming up under the influence of dad's collection of phonograph records and music taped off of the radio. It was through a taped broadcast that young Van Duser first heard a portion of Atkins' Finger Style Guitar album; the first Atkins LP that he actually owned was Chet Atkins' Workshop, which notably consists of pop and jazz standards. When Van Duser eventually met his idol, he showed off a bit by perfectly replicating a complex passage from one of the Atkins' albums that had originally inspired him to become a professional musician. Legend has it that Atkins paled visibly, sat down and looked at Van Duser with mingled admiration and awe as he said "kid, that album was overdubbed!" Atkins was also wowed by Van Duser's solo guitar arrangement of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," and quickly developed his own version of that tried-and-true crowd pleaser, during which one guitar is made to sound like an entire marching band.
Van Duser and Novick originally met during the '70s while composing music for two different dance troupes, and found that their ideas, techniques, and temperaments were pleasantly contrasted and unusually compatible. Novick was heard playing pennywhistle on Van Duser's first album, Finger-Style Guitar Solos (Rounder Records 3021), which was recorded in Newton, MA in 1977 except for the definitive version of "Stars and Stripes" which was taped live at the Nameless Coffee House in Harvard Square in May 1976 and closes out side two of the LP. The album cover features a meticulous pen and ink self portrait by Van Duser. Novick may be heard on most of Van Duser's more than ten albums and the two have spent decades touring and entertaining small but appreciative crowds, mainly in churches, coffee houses, and small clubs. Van Duser's second album, Stride Guitar was recorded in 1980, and epitomizes this artist's musical influences and preferences. The title perfectly describes his Harlem stride piano-inspired jazz guitar technique, while the composers tapped for melodies include Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Richard Whiting, Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh, and Jerome Kern. Released in 1987, American Finger Style Guitar contains excerpts from three early Van Duser albums, which have yet to be reissued in their entirety by Rounder. Van Duser, who also plays piano, bass, mandolin, and electric guitar, collaborated with Novick during the '80s and '90s as arrangers and performers on several albums by vocalists Priscilla Herdman and Jeanie Stahl. Van Duser also wrote arrangements for an album released in 1992 under the name of guitarist Terrence Farrell. In addition to his ongoing partnership with Novick and occasional utility assignments like arranging music for the soundtrack of Sheldon Mirowitz's PBS documentary Columbus and the Age of Discovery, Van Duser serves as part-time professor of the guitar at the Berklee College of Music. ~ arwulf arwulf, Rovi