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Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006 06:18 am

Having a classical guitar gas

Russel Brazzel loves his new ax

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Russel Brazzel:?“I feel I’m in a special place now with my music.”
Photo by Bryan Allen

In central Illinois the name of Russel Brazzel is practically synonymous with classical guitar. Since moving here in 1990, Brazzel has taught hundreds of music students, co-founded the Springfield Classical Guitar Society, brought internationally acclaimed players to town, and given countless performances. Even the license plates on his red Mustang read “CL GTR 1.” Obviously the man lives and breathes the classical guitar, so when he began feeling a tingling in his left arm some years back, the guitarist worried that his days of playing music were coming to an end.

Brazzel then purchased a guitar from luthier Keith Adams, its neck designed to accommodate his ailing arm. Now referred to by Brazzel as the “medicine guitar,” it allowed his carpal tunnel syndrome to heal as he continued playing. With practice time stretching to several hours a day, the instrument is vital to Brazzel’s physical well-being.

“I’m up to five hours a day and moving toward six,” Brazzel says. “Everything is working. I’m having idyllic practice days. I feel I’m in a special place now with my music.”

Along with his recent healing, Brazzel has another reason to rejoice: He’s bought another guitar. Hand-built by Paulino Bernabe, a 74-year-old Spanish master luthier, the instrument is an amazing piece of work that sounds brilliant in the hands of a player of Brazzel’s caliber. If you’ve ever heard Brazzel play, you know how the universe can flow through his fingers on a magical night and suddenly all becomes right with the world.

“I’m eager for people to hear me play on this guitar,” he says. “It has an interesting, complex tone. It’s museum-quality craftsmanship.”

Come hear the master on his new ax this Saturday, when Brazzel plays a benefit recital to kick off the ninth season of the Springfield Classical Guitar Society Concert Series. The program will consist of pieces — including 20th-century Latin American and Spanish works — written specifically for guitar. For now Brazzel is leaving tasks such as the difficult fingerings of piano transcriptions alone to allow himself to heal completely, reworking his playing philosophy while planning for the future.

“The body is a unified machine, and I overhauled everything,” he says. “I want to be able to play guitar when I’m 80.”

Russel Brazzel performs on behalf of the Springfield Classical Guitar Society at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at the First Presbyterian Church, 321 S. Seventh St. Tickets — $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and students — will be available at the door.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com

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