A Q&A with Dayton’s award-winning ‘Guitar Man’

Jim McCutcheon will be honored with Governor’s Award in Columbus this week.

“I spend every day of my life making music. I love to do that!”

— A quote from “The Guitar Man,” a children’s CD by Jim McCutcheon

Dayton’s “Guitar Man” Jim McCutcheon takes center stage on Wednesday, May 17, as the recipient of the prestigious Governor’s Award for the Arts. The Arts Education honor, one of nine awards, will be presented at the annual luncheon at the Columbus Athenaeum held in conjunction with Arts Day, a daylong arts advocacy event sponsored by the Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation.

“Jim is one of the most talented, intelligent, compassionate, gentle artist-teachers I have known,” says Lorna Dawes, former executive of the Muse Machine. “His love for his art and his generous spirit radiate to his audiences, whether they are young children, teenagers, college students or adults.”

Many of us enjoyed Jim’s music when he performed at Town & Country’s Peasant Stock Restaurant. Others are fans of his radio program on WDPR. The versatile McCutcheon is also a composer and has been Guitar Advisor to the National Federation of Music Clubs for over two decades. He writes CD reviews for “Soundboard” — the journal of the Guitar Foundation of America — and has toured the state as an Ohio Arts Council Touring Artist — performing for arts councils and students ranging from toddlers to teens.

Recently, we chatted with Jim McCutcheon about his passion for music and this special honor.

Q. What are your earliest music memories?

A. Playing the ukulele at age 8. It was my older sister's and she showed me how to read the chord diagrams. I must have spent hours sitting cross-legged on the floor playing from a little book of folk songs. She also let me listen to her albums of the Kingston Trio and The Brothers Four, a wide variety of positive songs sung in harmony and with strength. I wanted to BE them.

Q. What kind of child were you?

A. I was quite 'energetic' as they used to say. I loved the game of going to school and getting good grades. I was valedictorian at Wayne High School in 1969. Probably a bit of a bookworm.

Q. Where did you grow up?

A. I was born in Pittsburgh, PA, and my family moved to Dayton in 1961, when I was 11. I attended Wayne Twp schools, and earned a B.S. in Physics at UD. Later I earned a B.M. in Guitar Performance (1978) and a M.M. in Music Education (1991) from Wright State University.

Q. Who inspired you musically? Who were your mentors?

A. Segovia, the patriarch classical guitarist of the 20th century, was simply inspirational with the amazing music he could get out of a guitar. I kept a "Junior Scholastic" cover from the third grade (ca. 1959) with his photo on it. While I was a physics major at UD, my first classical guitar teacher, a touring artist named Bunyan Webb, gave me lessons in Dayton once a year for four years when he passed through on his tours.

Q. What instruments do you play ?

A. I play about all the fretted instruments — steel-string, 12-string, electric, bass and classical guitars; also the banjo, mandolin, balalaika, charango (from South America), ukulele, MIDI guitar. My first professional instrument was the flute!

Q. What kind of formal training did you have?

A. After lessons with Bunyan Webb and about two years playing the flute with a band on the road, I returned to Dayton and began a bachelor's degree at Wright State. They initiated a program at my request. I have continued my education by regularly attending international classical guitar conventions and master classes.

Q. What do you love about the guitar?

A. The guitar is such a flexible instrument — one minute you can be playing Bach, the next, jazz! You can sing with it and carry it with you anywhere. You can use it effectively with children in small groups, and it is widely used in music therapy.

Q. Tell us about the variety of the things you do?

A. I enjoy teaching the guitar and related music. That's a good thing because I teach at my store, at the University of Dayton, Wright State and Miami in both Oxford and Middletown. I also visit schools K-12 and do assemblies and workshops on the various fretted instruments as well as the Science of Music, which I do every year at Techfest at Sinclair.

I really enjoy playing concerts for arts series and recently appeared with the Dayton Bach Society. These encourage me to maintain my performance skills and bring some of that great energy to my teaching.

Q. What’s the challenge of playing in a restaurant?

A. I played at Peasant Stock Restaurant for almost 21 years (1978-1999 and about 3,000 nights!) and loved it! I don't need to be center stage, all-eyes-on-me all the time! I enjoyed creating atmosphere there. These days, the biggest challenge is finding a restaurant that chooses to afford the expense of live entertainment.

Q. What is your philosophy of teaching?

A. Music, and all the arts, bring out our humanity — the things we all share regardless of ethnicity, religion, nationality. Arts teachers are teaching a craft, but the bigger picture is that we are teaching students to appreciate excellent art of all types, thereby engendering more love and understanding in the world.

Q. How did you come to develop your “Science in Sound” program?

A. I did extensive work with The Muse Machine for many years, and Lorna Dawes — then executive director — suggested I develop such a program. It has become one of my favorite programs and residencies, which I do for students K-12, engaging their interest in music and guitars with their curiosity about science, all the while covering points found in the state standards.

Q. What kind of feedback do you get from those who listen to your radio show?

A. I've produced "The Intimate Guitar" on Dayton Public Radio since 1986 — about 1,500 shows to this point. It is my weekly opportunity to listen to and learn about music from guitarists from around the world who send me their newest recordings and then to affirm their efforts by sharing it with my audiences on Saturday evenings (9-10 p.m.) and Sunday mornings (9-10 a.m.).

My listeners love the variety of music I include, and the “dessert” at the end of the show, which is artistic guitar music that is not classical — fingerstyle, jazz, and sometimes instruments related to the guitar.

Q. What advice would you give to a parent who wants to interest a child in music?

A. Expose your children to as many different styles of music as possible. When our sons were little, we would go to the library and let them choose a recording they would listen to at bedtime.

Take advantage of music classes offered even for the youngest children. At our store, “Music Together” classes are for children newborn through age 4. Youngest children can learn a great deal about music before they actually play an instrument, and parents/grandparents can enjoy this time with them.

Q. Tell us about your shop.

A. McCutcheon Music has been my wife, Debbie's, and my "third child" since 1988. We started as a music teaching facility, and grew into retail in order to support that mission. We have two locations in south Dayton, one in the middle of Centerville and the other a mile south on Marco Lane. We have about 50 teachers, each of whom I would have my grandchildren study with, and also an established band and orchestra instrument rental program. This was our chance to establish a music store that reflects our values — a love of music, fairness and excellent customer care.

Q. What recordings have you done?

A. For adults, "The Spice of Life" and "Moscow Nights" (guitar and oboe); "The Guitar Man" and "A Day with the Guitar Man" for children. The latter won a Parent's Choice Silver Award. I am working on a recording of original music about science, and possibly other school-related songs written during residencies over the years.

Q. What’s on your bucket list?

A. I enjoy composing when I have the time, and have won and placed a number of times in the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs Adult Composer Contest. I would like to write more chamber music for the guitar and other instruments.

Q. How do you feel about winning the Governor’s Award for the Arts?

A. It is always nice to have someone recognize your work. I have definitely followed a road less traveled, and it is quite affirming for others at the state level to judge that it has some merit.

In today’s installment of A Sunday Chat, we talk to Jim McCutcheon, who is is a recipient of the Governor’s Award for the Arts.


Would you like to nominate someone who is making a difference in the arts community for a future installment of A Sunday Chat? Please contact arts reporter Meredith Moss at MMoss@coxohio.com.

About the Author