When my brother 'G the D' and his wife returned from a protracted trip to the U.S.A at the beginning of the 80's, he gave me a tape of an album called 'Hot Dawg' by a mandolin player called David Grisman. They had been to see Grisman's group at a concert in California, mainly because Stéphane Grappelli was a featured guest. G the D and I had first come to hear Grappelli through an enthusiasm for Django Rheinhardt's music But this stuff from Grisman was something new. Yes, it had elements of 'Gypsy Jazz' in it, but it also contained a large helping of Bluegrass and more than a hint of modern jazz influences. It was a knock-out mix and I loved it.
Not long after this I opened a specialist guitar shop in partnership with 'Fingers' Bartram, who by now was better known as Richard Bartram and was an accomplished Luthier (see my links). As well as selling instruments and music we decided to keep guitar records, so I set about building a varied stock that featured every possible aspect of guitar playing except the rock side of things (on the grounds that was already covered in depth by every other record shop in the known universe). My thoughts turned to the Grisman album, which had featured a superb acoustic guitar flat-picker by the name of Tony Rice. I soon found other albums by Rice and was led in turn to the world of bluegrass and also to the new acoustic music movement that was getting underway in the States. This clip of Grisman, Rice, fiddle player (and, incidentally, also a great guitarist) Mark O'Connor and bassist Rob Wasserman playing a tune called 'E.M.D.' should give you an idea of the impact that this stuff had on me and why the mandolin was now also engaging my attention. Pretty soon I picked up on Sam Bush - now known as a stalwart Nashville session player but capable of transcending the genres and playing all kinds of music. Here are two clips. The first shows him with another great musical 'genre bender', 5 string banjo player Bela Fleck (I will be coming back to him in a later posting). This is part of an American TV documentary about Fleck from the mid 90's and features one of his original compositions, 'Cheeseballs in Cowtown'! The next shows Bush, splendidly over the top, playing a tune called 'Funk 55' on a 4 string electric mandolin (same tuning but only one course of strings instead of two).
Another stalwart of Grisman's circle of musicians was Mike Marshall, who I have mentioned before as one of my favourite guitarists (see The twang's not the thang). In fact, mandolin is his first instrument. Here he shows off his bluegrass chops with 'Psychograss' at The Old Settler's Music Festival 1n 2007. In recent years and in common with one or two other musicians from the North American acoustic music scene, he has turned his attentions to choro and has recorded with a number of Brazilian musicians. Here we see him with the great bandolim player, Hamilton De Hollanda. They start with a bluegrass classic and segue to a choro favourite.
My next posting will follow the line back into Brazil, but for now we'll conclude with a clip of Mike in France last year, playing Ravel's 'Laidronette Imperatrice des Pagodes' with Nov' Mandolin Sextet . Another classic example of what can happen when the barriers come down and it's all just about the music!