Sky high

Guitar/cello duo take acoustic music to another level

 Jennifer and Jonathan Adams - the husband-and-wife duo known as Montana Skies - don't have a gimmick, exactly.

What the musical marrieds have is an instrumental arrangement that's unusual, to say the least. He plays acoustic guitar, in the classical, flamenco and gypsy jazz styles, and she's a cellist - both standard-issue acoustic cello and its plugged-in, body-less electric counterpart. They play fast, and they play very well, and their shows are spirited and exciting.

Friday's Montana Skies concert at the Ships of the Sea Museum is a Savannah Folk Music Society presentation. It'll take place under a tent, in the museum's outdoor gardens.

Jonathan and Jennifer met as music students at the University of Georgia (he's a South Carolina native, and she's from New Jersey). Afterwards, they both went off for further study - Montana for him, Italy for her - and today they're based in the Atlanta area.

"Montana Skies," if you're wondering, is the title of one of Jonathan's early compositions. The duo's repertoire is eclectic - they'll go from "Malaguena" to "Classical Gas" to "Message in a Bottle" in a heartbeat.

When they set out on this adventure, Jennifer says, they couldn't find any existing guitar-and-cello arrangements; they were compelled to make their own rules. "There wasn't any music just laid out for us to start playing," she explains, "so everything that we perform is something that we've made an arrangement of, or we've composed.

"It does have a very singular kind of sound because it's not really based on one particular genre. We're finding a new voice for ourselves."

Creating their own framework, Jonathan says, gave them confidence. "There really are so many rules in classical music, which we both studied in school - so when we were able to break away from that, it really was kind of free-ing."

They recorded one CD with a band, and toured that way for a while, but the Adamses prefer the challenge of making their duo sound like a small orchestra.

"I think all artists are always looking for something new," she says. "and something that excites you. Honestly, after we played with the other people, we were excited to get back to what we would do as two people. But make it sound like there were more than two people.

"One of the things that Jon and I have together is that freedom, meaning that we've known each other so long now that there's definitely more connected-ness than you can get with adding a lot of people."

Onstage, Jonathan sometimes loops a percussion sound, or a guitar riff, so he and Jennifer can play along with it as it repeats.

"It's nice to give yourself a little bit of a box and then see how far you can go with that," he says. "Some of the things I've done with the guitar that might not be apparent, because the guitar doesn't look different. But I'm using synthesizer with the guitar - I'm able to expand the range farther downward with bass notes, and I'm doing some things with distortion.

"In my mind, what we're always trying to do is stretch the capabilities of what we can do with the duo. For our next project, I have ideas for how we're going to incorporate more percussion sound and things like that."

For her part, Jennifer loves playing the acoustic cello, with what she describes as its "woody" sound - but breaking rules with her electric cello, now that's her idea of fun.

"It gives you a totally different sound," she enthuses. "I personally approach my electric cello as a different instrument, and because mine has two extra strings, it is! It adds to the already very large range of the cello. Meaning that I can play in the violin range, the cello range, the bass range, and therefore I have more things I can explore with that instrument.

"And somewhere inside, I was just a nerd and I wanted to rock out like a guitarist. Electric just has that allure for me."


Montana Skies

Where: Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Blvd.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 29

Cost: 10 public, $5 children/students, $8 Savannah Folk Music Society members

Info: (912) 786-6953,



About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.
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