Rico Stover Celebrates Howard Heitmeyer

Celebrating Howard Heitmeyer

We at Strings By Mail have long been fans of Howard Heitmeyer’s arrangements and compositions and carry a number of his works. When we recently heard that Rico Stover will be presenting a celebration and analysis of his work at the Guitar Foundation of America International Convention & Competition, we asked him to share some of his insights.

Celebrating Howard Heitmeyer

Celebrating Howard Heitmeyer

Howard Heitmeyer (b.1922) is a genius at arranging and composing for classical guitar. Classical guitar teachers generally do not have any experience with jazz or popular music, but Howard is an exception with no equals. He spent years mastering jazz guitar with a plectrum [pick]. Then he mastered classical guitar and settled down to a life of teaching hundreds of students, for whom he arranged well over 600 works. Today, at 94 years old, Howard deserves major recognition even though the majority of his work is not commercially available to the public.

This unsung genius of the classical guitar has been a major influence for me. I first met Howard in 1964 when I visited the guitar maker Jose Oribe at his shop in Inglewood, California. Howard was teaching there, and very kindly gave me an arrangement he had made of Luís Bonfá’s Manha de Carnaval, the theme song from the movie Black Orpheus, which I was keen to take home and try out. Several years earlier I had purchased an LP of Bonfá playing numerous bossa nova tunes, and I was intrigued. But where to get an arrangement of his music for solo guitar? At that time there was nothing. So I treasured the handwritten manuscript Howard gave me, which provided a starting point for unlocking the secrets of bossa nova.

During the late ’60s and early ’70s Howard was a busy teacher, with students ranging from beginners to advanced. He made arrangements upon request for these students, taking into account the level of a student’s technical capabilities. Consequently, he has created arrangements and compositions for all levels of player. The total number of arrangements that Howard has done to date (because he’s still going at 94!) totals over 600.

Yet despite Howard’s amazing output, there has never been a book of his arrangements. Why? The simple answer is that publishing was never really important to Howard. The complex answer is that many of the arrangements are of copyrighted music that require paying a licensing fee to publish, and this blocked producing a book of standards. But he did publish some public domain arrangements over the years, along with quite a few original compositions, which are available as solo guitar sheet music.

Howard mixes the two currents of his jazz and classical guitar mastery together in his creations. He also utilizes open strings as much as possible in the “guitar keys” in which his solo arrangements are made: C, D, E, F, G, A and B major and the minor keys of a, b, c#, d, and e. The arrangements he has made cover a spectrum from very simple to complex, so his contribution is great for players of all levels. I look forward to discussing and demonstrating some of them on June 24 at 9 a.m. at the 2017 GFA at California State University Fullerton.

Editor’s note: Videos of three of Heitmeyer’s compositions, performed by Strings By Mail sponsored artist Gohar Vardanyan, are available on our website: “A Little Waltz,” “A Little Love Song,” and “Aura Lee (Love Me Tender).”

Strings By Mail offers many works by Heitmeyer:

  • Several dozen of his compositions for Solo Guitar Sheet Music and Music for 2 Guitars
  • Technique Tips for the Classical Guitar,” a DVD/workbook combination by Heitmeyer
  • Changing Strings, Tuning & Tidbits,” a DVD Heitmeyer created to follow up on Technique Tips
  • Latin Stylings for the Classical Guitar,” a package Heitmeyer created that consists of a book and two DVDs
  • 12 Great Arrangements by Howard Heitmeyer,” a CD performed by the Leslie & Mark Duo
  • 2 thoughts on “Rico Stover Celebrates Howard Heitmeyer

    1. As soon as I could drive at 16, and had some money for lessons from my Mickey D’s job, I drove to Oribe’s shop in Inglewood on LaBrea to study with Howard. My father would always talk about how you could just whistle a song an Howard could play it.
      At first I wanted to learn to read music so I started wit Bach. I was already making arrangements of songs on classical guitar. I had done Classical Gas off the radio. I didn’t have a record player. So I would listen and work it out. I had an amazing ear. Howard taught me Fernando Sor and Terrega also Bach and more.
      Jose Felciano had just hit the charts and he was my hero. I went to see him play and I was devastated. I couldn’t play for a week because I realized how much I sucked. My father said go see Howard Heitmeyer and take lessons. So I drove from Pico Rivera all the way on Slauson th La Brea to take my lesson. I loved Howard he would teach me a piece and I would sit outside the studio and practice it till I had it down. If Howard didn’t have another lesson he would look at what I had done and usually teach me another arrangement. I played all his arrangements and I learned to do my own. I was a sponge.
      But one day my Dad recorded me playing Lagrima by Terrega. I was horrified at how bad I sounded. I wouldn’t play till I went back to see Howard. He told me about the rest stroke and how to bring out the melody. After that I played much better. I studied from Howard for a year or so. Then Vincenzo Macaluso. I drove my poor Flamenco teacher nuts because as fast as he could teach me I would have it down and play it as fast as he could. I later studied with Jimmy Wyble on jazz and bitonal improvisation. But Howard was my favorite guitarist to listen to. He was the biggest influence on my playing. Today I’m 63. I play classical and jazz and some Flamenco.
      An article in Guitar Player magazine by Howard Roberts , who was Heitmeyer’s roommate, told of how amazing Howard Heitmeyer was and how he could read or hear and play anything. Including arrangements for string quartets.
      I have many of his arrangements because Yahoo had a group of Heitmeyer fans. I was able to recover much of the music I lost when my brief case full of music was stolen. Today I owe everything to Howard.

    2. Just as Richard, I met Howard in the mid 1960’s at Jose Oribe’s Inglewood Guitar Studio. At that time, I was a flamenco player. Now, my dear friend Ted Owens (LA Guitarits)calls it “Barnyard Flamenco.” I had one advantage over 99.99% of the other flamenco players of that time. Being a trumpet player, I could read music. Naturally, I had a B-flat ear and still do. My first real gig was 1968, a lounge on Sepulveda, Blvd. in El Segundo, Calif. I was about 28 years old at that time. I soon found out, a little barnyard flamenco goes a long was with an El Segundo audience. I could play a few of my own pop arrangements. Shall I say, basic cowboy chords with a melody line on top. I soon found myself at Howard’s studio seeking out his pop and Latin arrangements. He gave me some of his standards, Shadow Of Your Smile, Theme From A Man And A Woman, A Taste Of Honey. My next trip over, I brought him a piano arrangement of a jazz standard, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. He flat sight read it off the piano score. I was floored, to say the least. Since those mid 60’s years, Howard and I have been great friends. I have collected his arrangements for many years. I am now 74, retired from the SP/UP Railroad. I have had the same weekend fine dining restaurant gig now for over 14 years. I play over 35 of Howard’s arrangements. Last I counted, I have performed in over 30 restaurants. Shall I say, I could NEVER have done this without Howard’s help and all his music. He has been a true blessing to me in all my years of playing. About five years ago, the late Bob Torres and I combined all our HH arrangements a gave them (copies) to Larry Kuhns. Larry started a HH restoration program where he puts all the handwritten copies to a computer music writing program. Many more people have also shared their HH arrangements with Larry. Besides Howard’s sight reading ability, it is amazing how he has the ability to write out an arrangement, right on the spot, skewed to a players ability. I’m sure there are hundreds of what we all call “one of a kind” Heitmeyer arrangements floating around out there that no one has ever seen except for the recipient.
      Paul McGuffin, Green Valley, Arizona

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