most notably, pieces by Antônio Carlos Jobim—on
her concert programs. Then she and Barbosa-Lima
teamed up for several albums—more Brazilian jazz, as
well as duo transcriptions of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in
Blue and dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story.
It was, in its way, a stealth approach to crossover.
Gershwin has long been a part of the classical repertoire; Bernstein’s theater works have been embraced
by opera houses; and Jobim and other Brazilian pop
and jazz composers use such distinctive and sophisticated harmonies and rhythms that they slipped easily
into the contemporary classical canon.
From there, Isbin’s steps grew gradually bolder.
She began collaborating with jazz musicians who did
not have a foot in the classical-music world, among
them the saxophonist Paul Winter and the guitarists Larry Coryell, Herb Ellis, and Stanley Jordan.
Moreover, she toured and recorded with Guitarjam,
a trio she formed with Coryell and the Brazilian jazz
and classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida.
You can hear her playing the solo guitar lines in
Howard Shore’s soundtrack score for Martin Scorsese’s
Oscar-winning film The Departed and on recorded
collaborations with the folk singer Joan Baez, as
well as the country fiddler Mark O’Connor and the
rock guitarists Steve Vai and Steve Morse. Vai and
O’Connor have also written duo works to perform
with her, balancing their instruments and styles with
Isbin’s rich tone and precise technique.
And having practiced Transcendental Meditation since she was 17, she has performed in several
of the starry benefit concerts staged by the David
Lynch Foundation, which promotes the meditation
technique for at-risk students.
These are commercially savvy projects. As Isbin
has pointed out, when she shares the stage with a jazz
or rock musician, she and her duo partner each attracts
their own audience, and if these listeners were dazzled
at the concert, they will leave with an appreciation for
a new style and, perhaps, a yen to explore further. Still,
Isbin is also keenly aware that crossover projects have
had a spotty history in the classical-music world, so
she has been careful to work with players she admires
and music she loves.
And it is not as though she has neglected the
standard classical repertoire. She plays plenty of
straightforward recitals and concerto appearances,
and most of her 30 recordings (and counting) are
devoted to the established guitar canon, to which
she invariably brings a warm tone and a lively but
thoughtful interpretive style.
Among them are an exemplary traversal of the
four Bach lute suites (which she transcribed during a
A standing ovation following Isbin’s performance of Rodrigo’s
Concierto de Aranjuez with the New York Philharmonic, June 2004.
Photo: © 2004 Chris Lee.
of the year Sharon Isbin
(left to right) Larry Coryell, Odetta, Isbin, and Carlos Barbosa-Lima, in
advance of their Carnegie Hall performance at Guitarstream ’ 85, a guitar
festival organized by Isbin. Photo: © 1985 Steve J. Sherman.