With practice, a competent guitarist can learn to play a highly polyphonic piece of music by breaking it down into its individual components and slowly putting them together. However, it takes an impossibly gifted player to improvise independent melodies, harmonies and bass lines — all at the same time — while maintaining an impeccable groove.
Australia’s Adam Miller — who his Bakersfield debut on the Guitar Masters stage on Nov. 9 — is one such rare phenomenon.
Miller first discovered the acoustic guitar through Tommy Emmanuel, whose virtuosic stylings he copped as a preteen. By his 15th birthday, Miller was opening for Emmanuel in concert, and has since shared the stage with many other notable artists including Martin Taylor and jazz great Charlie Hunter. Then there was his somewhat unexpected stage appearance with guitar legend Les Paul.
“I was in New York City for the first time in 2007 and really just checking out the whole place,” the 34-year-old recalled. “I spoke to a few people through the day, and they said lots of folks take guitars into the club for Les to sign, so I thought I’d just turn up with a guitar. When I got to the door of the club, they said that the evening shows were sold out. I said jokingly that ‘I’m one of the guest artists this evening.’ Well, they took me seriously and escorted me into the club and backstage! Les was eating his dinner and looked up and asked who I was. I told him I was from Australia and have played with Tommy Emmanuel quite a bit.”
“To my total surprise, he then said, ‘Well, what are we playing together tonight?’ I guested for a few songs in the shows that night! I totally bluffed my way in! He got me up in each set and made me play a song solo first. Les took the time to make sure I knew that the audience came first and entertaining them was his No. 1 priority.”
“That night really changed my life!” Miller said.
Perhaps an even more impactful experience — albeit in a completely different way — was Miller’s two trips to entertain the Allied troops in Afghanistan. We asked him about it in a recent phone conversation before embarking on a month-long North American tour.
“Both visits to Tarinkot were completely amazing experiences,” Miller said. The rugged mountain landscape, the truck stage, and tank served as an amazing backdrop! Performing to a sea of camouflage uniforms and rifles was a very proud moment for me. It certainly gave me insight into a world I had not known before, particularly when rockets were being launched from the other side of the base.”
Miller now juggles his time between international travels and Australia where he lectures in jazz and contemporary guitar at the University of Newcastle. During the current tour, he will teach master classes in L.A., Woodstock (N.Y.) and Denver, play a festival date in Montreal, and work in a little family time in the Bay Area before returning for dates in Sydney.
Although he is no slouch on the electric guitar, Miller still prefers a solo acoustic performance. “When it’s just me and the audience, they’re the ones who determine where the show goes,” Miller said. “Whether it’s one of my originals they’re probably hearing for the first time, or a new treatment of a Motown classic, it’s just so important to get — and keep — the listeners involved. That’s what guides the shows and makes them fresh every night.”
“I’m just so jazzed to finally be playing Guitar Masters. We’ve been trying to work out the timing for almost two years!” exclaimed Miller. “All my musician friends who have played there have great things to say about the venue, and especially about the people. Bakersfield has such an incredible musical history. I know it will be a special night for me.”
It will definitely be a special night for Bakersfield.