Esteban may be playing guitar.
But when he's playing, "I don't care what my fingers are doing," he says. "You play from your heart."
That's exactly what the guitarist plans to do, starting Thursday, at two concerts at The Smith Center's intimate Cabaret Jazz.
Of course, it helps that he'll be sharing the stage with his violinist daughter, Teresa Joy .
(In addition to their upcoming Smith Center concerts, the two also have been performing on local radio station KLAV-AM, 1230; their weekly show, now heard at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, moves to 6 p.m. Tuesdays next week.)
"I do love to play love songs - especially with my daughter," Esteban says, describing the collaboration as "two people giving their hearts to you."
A keyboardist, bassist and drummer will join them for "an eclectic mixture of music" that provides "a musical journey through history," he says. "I call it 'Bach to Rock.' "
There's a bit of jazz, he notes, along with "Mediterana ," based on a 4,000-year-old musical scale, as well as flamenco and melodies from the Beatles and (who else?) Bach.
Some of the latter were transcribed by Esteban's mentor, the late Spanish guitar virtuoso Andres Segovia , who "brought the guitar from nothing - a parlor instrument - to the world stage," Esteban says.
Before Esteban became Esteban, however, he was Pittsburgh kid Stephen Paul, a steelworker's son who discovered the guitar at the age of 3, when his uncle played a classical guitar record "through his big stereo system."
Young Stephen began studying guitar at age 8, winning hometown talent shows and ultimately majoring in music (and English literature) at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University.
"I was a little weird - I was playing classic guitar and the rest of the kids were playing rock 'n' roll," he recalls, explaining how he responded to classical guitar's "beautiful resonance. And I could just feel the heart."
In his heart, the young guitarist was convinced that his life would be meaningless without the chance to study with Segovia.
So he began bombarding the master with written messages to that effect - for two years.
"I was persistent, that's for sure," Esteban admits, noting that "in life, you don't get to go through the front door all the time."
Finally, Segovia - in Los Angeles for a concert - agreed to listen to Paul play.
"He saw something," Esteban recalls. "He didn't say I was any good," but "I played from my heart and something came through."
Segovia then wrote a list of recommended pieces for the aspiring student to learn. When Paul played them for the virtuoso a year later, Segovia invited Paul to Madrid to study with him.
That's when Stephen Paul became Esteban (the Spanish version of his first name).
That's also where Esteban first adopted his distinctive, nuevo Zorro stage attire.
'Didn't show the dirt'
To make money while studying with Segovia in Madrid, Esteban became a street musician. Black clothes "didn't show the dirt," he says, and he bought a flamenco hat from a neighborhood store.
As for his trademark sunglasses, "I'm blind in one eye," Esteban explains. "I gotta wear 'em."
Performing after returning from Spain in 1979, Esteban toured for six months as a tuxedoed classical guitarist, but "just as I was getting going, this thing happened."
The "thing" being a collision with a drunken driver that put Esteban "out of commission 'til 1990."
He couldn't move his hand, making it virtually impossible to play.
"I couldn't play a C-major scale," he recalls.
And by the time Esteban recovered, he realized he couldn't play the most demanding classical repertoire anymore, necessitating a shift in his musical approach.
"What's my life about?" he asked himself. When he immediately thought of his wife and two daughters, he realized the answer to his question: "It's about love."
So Esteban decided to play love songs; the first one he arranged for guitar was "Unchained Melody," an Oscar-nominated 1950s hit popularized all over again by the 1990 movie "Ghost."
An eight-year gig at the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale, Ariz., proved Esteban's breakthrough, leading to concerts "all over the place" - including one in Atlanta, where a producer from the QVC shopping channel saw him - and a subsequent home-shopping TV debut.
As a shopping-channel star, Esteban sold 350,000 CDs that first day.
Overall, he's sold more than a million dollars' worth of CDs on TV - and more than a million guitars as part of an instructional package that includes a guitar, a case, an amplifier and an instructional CD.
He's planning another effort "to get guitars in the hands of kids," recalling the impact he and daughter Teresa Joy made during a recent performance with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, when they visited - and played for - inner-city kids.
Esteban and his daughter "sparked such a response" among the students that school band instruments sitting idle were suddenly snapped up by the aspiring musicians, he notes.
"It changes your life when you begin to play a musical instrument," Esteban maintains.
And he should know.
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.