Tim Sparks and Phil Heywood are two of the reasons why Minnesota is known nationwide as a hotbed for acoustic fingerstyle guitar. Both guitarists are widely recognized for their solo careers and have inspired seasoned pros and aspiring students alike with their unique talents. Both are former National Fingerpicking Champions who have gone on to release numerous recordings and compile lengthy performance resumés.
Trained by Segovia protegee Jesus Silva at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Sparks has continued to study classical music throughout his career. His adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite has been cited as a significant contribution to solo guitar literature. His wide travels inspired his interest in European and Mediterranean styles, particularly the music of the Balkans. Upon his return to Minnesota, Sparks immersed himself in the ethnic music scene, performing on Oud and Saz in Middle Eastern ensembles and playing guitar in Greek, Klezmer, and Sephardic groups. This work culminated in the recording of Sparks' Balkan Dreams Suite, a remarkable collection of odd-meter guitar arrangements.
Heywood grew up in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, where, at age 12, he took guitar lessons from a Cornell College music student who taught him to fingerpick songs from The Weavers’ Song Book. The lessons also included new material by songwriters of the blossoming 1960s folk scene, and culminated in an arrangement of Mason Williams’ ubiquitous Classical Gas. A few years later a high school friend introduced Heywood to the acoustic blues guitarists of the 1920s and 30s and the music of fingerstyle pioneer John Fahey. It was a veritable Big Bang of exciting sources that quickly expanded into the repertoires of Leo Kottke, the Minneapolis trio Koerner, Ray and Glover and others.
About 10 years ago, Tim and Phil began to work up duets and perform together. They’ve built an exciting and wide-ranging repertoire drawing from American folk/blues/early jazz roots, some brilliant forays into “world” music, and a few well-chosen pop obscurities. The two have honed a dynamic concert format that showcases each guitarist’s solo selections and culminates in the full glory of two world-class fingerpickers going at it together.