If you Google “Top Mandolin Players,” pretty much every result you get will have David “Dawg” Grisman in the top five. The man is a living legend. Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait…
Over the course of his 50-year career, Grisman has invented his own genre that he calls Dawg Music, a mixture of bluegrass, Mediterranean string band music and Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli flavored jazz. (He even recorded with Grappelli back in the early ‘80s.)
Grisman’s always got his hands buried deep in multiple projects simultaneously. The band he’s bringing to the gorgeous musical oasis that is Infinity Music Hall this Saturday is called the David Grisman FolkJazz Trio. The other two members of the band are guitarist Jim Hurst and Grisman’s son Sam.
“The FolkJazz Trio was inspired by a solo performance by Jim Hurst in my hometown,” says Grisman. “I was blown away by Jim’s singing, playing and incredible groove! … There’s a body of American music that’s outside of what I do with my Quintet/Sextet and the DGBX which I like to explore. So it seemed natural to form this trio with these particular musicians. Our repertoire runs the gamut from Stephen Foster to Les Paul, and from old blues tunes and old-time songs & fiddle tunes to contemporary song writing. There are a lot sweet vocals, mostly by Jim, finger and flat picking and Sam’s unique bass solos.”
Grisman famously created his own label, Acoustic Disc (dawgnet.com), in 1990 that releases only acoustic music, in an attempt to preserve and spread the art form. But just because its roots are grounded in old-fashioned music doesn’t mean it’s resisting change.
“To be perfectly honest, the CD business is in the toilet, with downloading gradually growing,” says Grisman. “I think there are many reasons for this: The overall economic situation; the disappearance of physical venues (record stores); the proliferation of huge amounts of free access to music through the internet and computers, i.e. technology, and the continuing erosion of intellectual property rights, plus the overall fact that the entire music business has been turned upside down and hasn’t really landed right-side-up yet. But there are positive aspects to all of these factors which I’m very excited about — and which I’m devoting most of my time to, creating projects for our download website, AcousticOasis.com. Most of the music there is unavailable elsewhere, particularly in the higher-quality resolutions. I am optimistic about the future, when hopefully we will have re-connected with our constituency.”
You can’t talk about David Grisman without talking about Jerry Garcia. The two had a close musical relationship, a kind of mutual understanding of each other that's not often acheived between players. Grisman is the guy playing the distinctive mandolin part on the studio version of “Ripple,” one of the Dead’s most beloved songs. Garcia, in fact, is the guy that appointed Grisman the nickname “Dawg.” One of the pair’s most popular collaborations is known as The Pizza Tapes, recorded in 1993 at Grisman’s studio. It wasn’t a proper recording — just a casual jam session that happened to take place in a room with microphones in it. They hit “record” and then forgot about the mics. One version of the legend says that a pizza delivery boy happened upon Garcia’s copy of the tape, grabbed it and leaked it, and that’s the only reason it was ever heard by the outside world.
“The fact that The Pizza Tapes was an informal jam session that was recorded with high production values provides an insightful glimpse into how these particular musicians had a great time essentially playing for the pure joy of it, not trying to make a product,” says Grisman. “It only became a product after the fact, and only after some of the tapes were ‘leaked’ and subsequently aired on the radio and bootlegged. Another advantage of the download [as a format] is that I can make available any amount of music, hence the 170-minute ‘Extra Large’ edition of The Pizza Tapes now available on AcousticOasis.com, with plenty more of the scintillating conversation that made the original so endearing. It’s the ultimate ‘fly-on-the-wall’ listening experience for fans of Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice and myself — and I don’t know which story is true!”
As certain brands of acoustic music creep back into more mainstream popularity, we were wondering what players of the new school Grisman found to be compelling. In addition to his son’s other band the Deadly Gentlemen and members of his own sextet, guitarist Grand Gordy and fiddle player Mike Barnett, he did offer a few recommendations.
“Let me first say that music doesn’t have to be ‘new’ to excite me,” he says. “There are some really exciting young musicians that are taking bluegrass music and instruments into new and fabulous places. In the forefront would be Chris Thile’s band the Punch Brothers, who are incredibly talented and imaginative. Guitarist Julian Lage is a major voice in the new acoustic world, and is someone who I find very exciting. All in all it’s a very healthy time for acoustic music, and I’m still trying to kick that gong around myself!”
David Grisman FolkJazz Trio
Sat., March 3, 8 p.m. $57-$77. Infinity Music Hall, 20 Greenwoods Road West (Rte 44), Norfolk. (866) 666-6306. infinityhall.com.