Peppino D’Agostino emerged on the musical scene in the late 1980’s and helped redefine the boundaries of the acoustic guitar. His virtuosic technique, penchant for open tunings, and percussive effects are the basis of his unique compositional style which has been inspiring musicians and audiences alike for years. Add to that his natural warmth, playfulness, and broad musical tastes and you have the recipe for what he calls “minestrone music”. D’Agostino continues to evolve and grow in ways that would have been hard to predict when he was first showcasing his melodic yet emotionally intense style on the recordings Acoustic Spirit, Close to the Heart, and Every Step of the Way, which was named one of the top three acoustic guitar albums of all time by Acoustic Guitar magazine readers in 2008.
Since his debut recording, Bluerba, recorded in his native Italy in 1981, D’Agostino has performed in more than 26 countries; been featured at prestigious international music festivals in Montreal, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Ravello; and performed in world-renowned venues such as the Kölner Philharmonie in Cologne, the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall in Istanbul. He frequently plays with prominent artists around the world, including Tommy Emmanuel, Leo Kottke, Martin Taylor, and Eric Johnson. His 17 recordings include releases on Favored Nations, Mesa/Bluemoon, Acoustic Music Records, and other labels. Hailed as “a guitarist’s guitarist” by Acoustic Guitar magazine and “a giant of the acoustic guitar” by the San Diego Reader, D’Agostino was voted Best Acoustic Guitarist by Guitar Player magazine readers in 2007.
Collaborations have been key to D’Agostino’s career. In 2010, D’Agostino co-founded with David Tanenbaum, chairman of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Guitar Department, The Pacific Guitar Ensemble – an eclectic group of six guitarists who play everything from nylon and steel-string guitars to electric basses and 17th century therobos while spanning musical genres from Bach to minimalist composers and Piazzolla to Peppino’s own rich and dynamic originals. D’Agostino can also be found at times teaming up with amazing musicians such as drummer Jeff Campitelli, one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time; legendary Paraguayan harpist and violinist Carlos Reyes; Frank Martin, keyboardist extraordinare who has played with everyone from Lady Gaga to Bruce Springsteen; and a wide array of other musicians and vocalists. However, it is those times when his daughter, Aleza D’Agostino, joins him for a song or two on stage, that you can see how fully entwined is his love for sharing music with his love for family.
In 2011, D’Agostino’s composition “Stammi Vicino,” written with electric guitarist Stef Burns and Italian rock star Vasco Rossi, reached number one in the iTunes rock charts in Italy. “Vasco is fairly unknown outside of Italy,” D’Agostino says, “but he’s the biggest star in Italy. This song was on the CD that sold the most in 2011, and it started with an instrumental composition of mine. The recording begins with my guitar, which was the only thing that they kept from the demo tape we sent them. My brother was calling me and saying, ‘Peppino, this song is all over the radio in Italy.’ It was really something.”
In addition to performing D’Agostino also makes time for teaching. He enjoys meeting with individual students as well as providing group instruction and vacation learning packages like the Acoustic Guitar Cruises or Creative Vacances in La Moreau, France. In 2015 the leading online instruction company Truefire will release a series of videos in which D’Agostino explains his influential guitar techniques and approach to composition. When not performing or teaching, he also has fun writing musical licks for new versions of games such as Sims a product of Electronic Arts or Dragons of Atlantis for Kabam – both being released in Fall 2014.
D’Agostino’s simultaneous immersion in the classical guitar and rock worlds, has culminated in his most recent solo recording, Penumbra, to be released by Mesa/Bluemoon this Fall (2014). “There has been an evolution in my playing due to all the incredible musicians that I have met, and this new CD reflects that,” he says. “How can I not be influenced by such great players? I don’t even recognize how much, because it goes into your brain, and you can’t quantify that, but working with all these artists, and knowing what inspires them, has made a noticeable difference in my approach. I definitely feel that this record expresses all those various influences.” According to D’Agostino, Penumbra is a mix of sophisticated yet melodic compositions that are technically complex.
Penumbra includes two compositions written for D’Agostino by Latin Grammy Award winner and classical guitar legend Sergio Assad. Of this fateful collaboration D’Agostino says, “We became good friends when he started teaching at the Conservatory in San Francisco. I really admire what he does as a composer, so one night when we were having dinner in North Beach, I asked him, ‘What’s your approach?’ And he said, ‘Well there’s different things that I do. One of them is, I use numbers, like the dodecaphonic approach. For instance, if you give me your name, each letter, p-e-p-p-i-n-o, is a note.’ And then, three weeks later, he came up with a tune based on my name which is very melodic and lyrical. On another night, David Tanenbaum, Sergio, and I went out and had some fun and three days later, Sergio said, ‘Hey I wrote another one for you.’ This one is more like a samba and it’s pretty fast. Later David was telling me, “Do you know how many classical guitarists constantly ask Sergio to write for them – and he just gave you two compositions – you’re really lucky.”
The recording also features compositions from two other contemporary classical guitarists, Roland Dyens and Maurizio Colonna. “I really admire Roland Dyens,” says D’Agostino. “He’s one of my favorite guitarists, because he mixes classical and jazz. He has this mind that can go both places. And every concert he starts with an improvisation. I always loved his piece ‘Valse des Anges’ (‘Angel’s Waltz’). It’s more of a jazz waltz—very melodic, but also jazzy.”
Like Assad, Italian guitarist Colonna contributed two pieces. “I met Maurizio years ago, and he’s interesting because he uses a classical technique, yet he has also recorded very complex arrangements of rock songs by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd,” says D’Agostino. “but the two pieces I recorded are his original compositions. One is very melodic, with a lot of the classical tremolo technique. The challenge is to do it on steel-string, which is not easy. The other piece, ‘Synchronized Movements,’ is an almost minimalist piece, where phrases are rhythmic yet change only slightly.”
While all these guitarists have clearly contributed to D’Agostino’s continuing evolution, he returns the favor with compositions dedicated to Tanenbaum and Sergio Assad. “I dedicated ‘Penumbra,’ the title track of the CD, to David Tanenbaum,” says D’Agostino. “‘Penumbra’ means between dark and light. Through David I learned about Baroque music and minimalism. So I was really trying to bring some of the Baroque and minimalist elements into the composition. I wrote it for him and he actually started performing it. So there’s an even stronger connection with the classical world.”
“Penumbra” is also a perfect illustration of how D’Agostino is balancing his interest in classical guitar and his older steel-string style. Opening with a Baroque-sounding theme, played with great sensitivity and feeling, the piece, which is in one of D’Agostino’s trademark open tunings, segues into a rhythmic section in 9/8 that references his rock and ethnic-influenced style.
“The piece that I wrote for David has more of a cerebral approach, more studied, but there are some emotional passages, too,” says D’Agostino. “People often ask me ‘Where do you get the inspiration for your pieces?’ Often I actually think about people in my life whether it be a colleague, friend, family member, or in this case, a little girl, the two-and-a-half year old daughter of Stef Burns. Her sweetness and innocence led me to write a very sweet little piece for her called Jamie’s Smile. Another short composition was for the son of a dear friend of mine who died in a motorcycle accident in Italy. When I was looking at a picture of this boy and imagined the pain that his father felt I gave this piece of music to him as a gift of remembering his son’s bright though too brief light.”
D’Agostino will be performing with a variety of ensembles in support of Penumbra. He’ll continue playing with the Pacific Guitar Ensemble, longtime colleagues Tanenbaum and Burns as well as the duos with drummer Jeff Campitelli and harpist and violinist Carlos Reyes. Furthermore, he is also part of a 2014 – 2015 tour called “The Great Guitars”, with Martin Taylor, Frank Vignola, and Vinny Raniolo. All these projects although different in nature and scope have one thing in common – D’Agostino’s ongoing desire to expand the repertoire of the steel string guitar and to reaffirm the important role that music plays in our lives.