Four Weeks, Four Styles 

VCU's Guitar and Other Strings Series kicks off July 7.

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It's not every day that one guitarist can encompass all these styles. But Duck Baker, a finger-style guitarist who will perform July 7, plays everything from bluegrass to free-form jazz to Irish tunes. "I can't hear where to draw the lines between music," Baker says. "All of it has the same swing and cry to me."

Nicknamed "Duck" in the early '60s while growing up in Richmond, Baker has since been living in the United Kingdom. But he still enjoys coming home, he says: "Don't get me wrong — I enjoy eating pinto beans and hearing people talk right."

Here, Baker will be playing his current addiction, Thelonious Monk, as well as some swing, Appalachian music, Irish tunes, Herbie Nichols and some of his own compositions. And he says, "Every now and then I break down and play a fiddle tune."

While listeners can expect just about anything from Baker, The Kenny and Amanda Smith Band, performing July 14, focuses on bluegrass. "We don't go too far from traditional style, but we play all original music," Kenny Smith says.

Kenny and Amanda met at a Lonesome River Band concert in West Virginia in 1995. "I thought, there's a nice-looking gal, but she probably doesn't love bluegrass," Kenny says. Luckily he was wrong, and ever since their first date in November that year, they've been playing together.

Along the way, they've picked up a few awards, the most prominent being the 2003 International Bluegrass Music Association award for the emerging artist of the year. Besides their appearance at VCU this summer, they'll be playing at the National Folk Festival in October.

The band Quatro na Bossa takes listeners to Brazil July 21 with its 20th-century samba and bossa nova music. This Brazilian music is infused with what in Portuguese is called saudade, a kind of sadness and yearning. "The Brazilians have a unique way of coupling sadness with an uplifting, social music," says Kevin Harding, the group's founder and a University of Richmond professor.

Featured on its program will be music from the composer team of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes as well as composers Joao Donato and Chico Buarque.

Wrapping up the series July 23, the VCU Community Guitar Ensemble, a group of 20 nonprofessional guitarists, will play music by Isaac Albéniz, Duke Ellington and a newly commissioned work by Frank Mullen III. Patykula, who leads the ensemble, promises "there will be lots of variety." S

The VCU Guitar and Other Strings Series runs July 7-23 at the Vlahcevic Concert Hall in the Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Ave. Tickets are $10, except for the July 23 show, which is free. Call 828-1166 for information.

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