Elliott Sharp / Carbon
Critics have hailed Elliott Sharp as one of American music's lesser-known geniuses. A guitarist and composer who works both within and at the fringes of New York City's avant-jazz and experimental rock music scenes, Sharp has been putting out solo records and forming new and innovative ensembles since 1977. He is highly regarded among music writers as well as among his peers for the range of his styles and technical brilliance, but he remains largely unknown to the public outside of a small coterie of experimental music fans. In one of the few articles about his work published in the mainstream press, New York Times writer Adam Shatz wrote that Sharp's compositions "tend to be brutally dissonant and repetitive, driven by an exacting logic that gives them an undeniable power, though it doesn't make for easy listening."
Sharp was born in 1951 in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in White Plains, New York. His mother was a Holocaust survivor of World War II. His father, an engineer by profession, was also a talented painter and woodcarver. Not surprisingly, Sharp emerged as a smart child whose parents had high hopes for him. "I played classical piano when I was a child, Liszt and Chopin, but I didn't really care for the practice regime," he recalled in an interview with England's Birmingham Post journalist Martin Longley. "My parents were really pushing that. I was also trying to be a junior scientist at the age of seven. I hated the piano after that. I switched to the clarinet. I think it was encouraged that I do it partially as therapy for my asthma."
But then Sharp discovered rock and roll in high school, and found his muse when he heard the music of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, and other groundbreakers of the mid-1960s. He acquired what would become the first of an impressive array of guitars in 1968, and built his own fuzz boxes and pedals. Still a top student, he won a National Science Foundation grant for creating an experiment showing that microwaves caused genetic mutations in fruit flies, but turned down the grant in order to become a music major at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He remained intensely involved in popular music, working as a DJ and discovering dozens of new styles, from the blues to psychedelic rock to world music.
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