By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — University of Oklahoma guitar professor Larry Hammett is performing from his new solo record with trio accompaniment at Norman Depot May 12
For Larry Hammett variety is the spice of life.
Though the University of Oklahoma guitar professor is recognized as an expert in classical and jazz guitar, he doesn’t limit himself to those spheres of sound. Hammett is sharing his music during a concert 7:30 p.m. May 12 at the Norman Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave.
“It’s satisfying that I can play a concerto with the orchestra, blues in a club with the boys, lute for some opera singers or guitar with my daughter’s country band,” he said. “It’s the ability to not be stuck in a genre and that gives me a great deal of pleasure.”
Hammett’s fondness for exploring music has naturally lead him outside strictly academic circles. Norman has fine concert halls like OU’s Catlett Music Center, and then just a walking distance away, The Deli is a watering hole where punk rock, crustabilly or hayseed twang is played every night of the year.
“There’s a healthy relationship between the university and those not directly associated with it,” Hammett said. “Dr. Richard Zielinski, OU’s director of choral activities, has created a partnership with the Norman community and puts on these huge presentations at the Nancy O’Brian Center for the Performing Arts.”
That’s the classical side but Hammett’s not exclusively high-brow when it comes to playing music and making a buck.
“I encourage my students to play with guys on the street,” he said. “I hook them up together if I see that they’re like-minded people. Also, we bring local musicians such as Jahruba in for events such as the Masala World Music Series.”
He cited OU jazz professor Jay Wilkinson as being the sparkplug for inviting Ivan Peña, whose ensemble played last year’s Jazz in June, to an upcoming university showcase.
The professor hasn’t observed a remarkable evolution in guitar music during his lifetime.
“When you look at the master works of any genre; classical, flamenco, pop, rock ‘n’ roll or jazz — I’ll frequently find something and think ‘Wow, that’s fresh and new,’” he said. “Then I’ll look at the date on the record and it’s 1967. Ralph Towner’s music is a perfect example.”
Students often bring wonderful “new” music to Hammett who recognizes much of it as being a rehash of techniques from 40 years ago.
“Evolution is just a slow slog and I haven’t seen much of it,” he said.
Hammett praised the quality of students at OU.
“I mostly deal with my guitar majors and they are great,” he said. “They’re very inquisitive and challenge me. I encourage them to do that and they’re in my face about stuff, which I like.”
As a youth himself, Hammett admired guitarists who were making a lot of money.
“If they were successful and had organized their lives in such a way that they were playing what they wanted to, making a living and having a healthy concert career, those were my heroes,” he said. “I must have liked the music, too, and they included Leo Kottke, Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, Michael Hedges and even guys like Roy Clark who I’d see on The Tonight Show being goofy and playing the crap out of his guitar.”
In the past, Hammett’s recordings have been ensembles but his newest album is solo.
“The first half of the program will be those compositions,” Hammett said of his upcoming Sunday performance. “They’re a little impressionistic, whimsical, starting nebulously and ending the same way. They’re floating ideas.”
After that section he’ll be introducing to the stage keyboardist Dennis Borycky, percussionist Mark Giammario and bassist Anthony Stoops on bass.
Tickets, $10 for adults and $7 for students, are available at the Norman Depot. Office and gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. For additional information, visit pasnorman.org or call 405-307-9320.