Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Music Of David Grisman

David Grisman, Mandolin Master

Now in the world of Bluegrass, Folk, and Jazz music there are a lot of virtuoso musicians, and even in jazz there are probably a lot of great mandolin players, but nobody in American music has expanded the boundaries of traditional music, or the boundaries of mandolin music so much as has David Grisman. David Grisman, master mandolin player that he is, isn't even known as David Grisman so much any more - and neither is his music known as jazz, or bluegrass, both David and his music are known as Dawg, and in the case of the music, Dawg music.
If you wanted to get right down to it, then you could say that David Grisman practically created the Dawg Grass, or as Tony Rice calls it, Spacegrass music genre. It's not that the idea behind those kinds of music is so unique, it isn't, it's the implementation of the music that is unique. Basically, Grisman brought Django Reinhardt and Jazz to the Bluegrass music of Appalachia, and used traditional American folk instruments to create Jazz Grass.

A Younger David Grisman With Jethro Burns(Left) and Tiny Moore(Right)

David Grisman - NOT Bluegrass

Now the mandolin has always been one of the dominant stringed instruments in any musical genre. Basically, a mandolin is the same as a violin, but it has dual strings where the violin has single strings, and the mandolin is fretted, and meant to be played with a plectrum. The mandolin is also designed to primarily be tuned just as the fiddle is, with the exception of the dual strings, which give you an extra four to tune, and the wonderful chorus effect that you hear when enjoying listening to or playing a mandolin.
Mandolins have always been present in classical and folk music, and especially in Celtic folk music from the British Islands, and as we all know, when that music crossed the Atlantic in the minds and hearts of the U.K. and Irish immigrants, they brought it and their mandolins to the new world where, in time, Bluegrass music was formed.
Make no mistake, David Grisman started off his mandolin playing career as a top notch bluegrass player such as his contemporary Ricky Skaggs, but while Skaggs was always a traditionalist, Grisman was always an alternative type.
But let's hear David Grisman now, shall we? Yes we shall. This music by the super group of absolute virtuoso musicians was where I first became acquainted with the music of David Grisman, but Muleskinner is not Dawg Music, or Spacegrass, but rather, it's a bunch of extremely talented hippies playing Bluegrass.

David Grisman in Muleskinner - New Camptown Races.

David Grisman And The Grateful Dead

A lot of people who are casual fans of The Grateful Dead aren't aware that Jerry Garcia, prior to heading The Dead, had been a bluegrass picker. It's really hard to miss the traditional music influence on the music of The Grateful Dead, but folks more in tune with American musical forms always pick up on that with great ease. David Grisman had always been a huge friend of the late Jerry Garcia, and he appeared on what is probably the most known and loved album that The Grateful Dead had every recorded, the album American Beauty. Though The Grateful Dead was never a F.M. radio hit machine, that band put out many timeless songs that will in time become absolute staples of American Folk Music, and one of the songs most likely to never leave the consciousness of the American mind is Ripple, which features the mandolin playing of David Grisman.
Besides David Grisman working with The Grateful Dead, he has also recorded with the late Jerry Garcia in projects such as Old And In The way, and with both Jerry Garcia and the absolute modern master of flatpicking acoustic guitar, Tony Rice, on obscure and amazing albums such as The Pizza Tapes, which were basically just three friends hanging out and playing together while letting themselves be recorded....and the tapes were stolen by the pizza delivery man!

"RIpple," Featuring David Grisman - By The Grateful Dead.

David Grisman With His Gibson F5 Lloyd Loar Mandolin, "Crusher."

David Grisman And The Gibson F5 Mandolin

Now David Grisman plays a Gibson F5 Mandolin, and I have to say, there's nothing the slightest bit unique about that. Almost every single last major American musician that plays the mandolin plays a Gibson F5. Don't think that this is strange, it's a timeless instrument, and there isn't really a better kind of mandolin made.
If a mandolin player isn't playing an F5 by Gibson, then you can well bet they want to own one, or in fact, are playing a smaller manufacturer's copy of an F5. There are lots of small manufacturers making fine copies of the legendary Gibson F5, and Collings Guitars out of Austin, Texas comes to mind here.
There's more to David Grisman's own Gibson F5 though, David's primary instrument is an F5 made by the legendary luthier that created the design of the Gibson F5, and that man's name is Lloyd Loar - a man who's mandolins will be remembered in such a way as is equal to the violins of Stradivarius.
Like many other musicians who've taken a famous instrument and made it more famous, David has a pet name for his Lloyd Loar Gibson F5 Mandolin, he and the whole world now call his instrument Crusher.
So far as a comparison to David Grisman - there is Ricky Skaggs to consider. While David Grisman is a mandolin master that has expanded the genres of music that mandolins are played in by incorporating a lot of jam band style free form ideas and the jazz of Django Reinhardt, Ricky Skaggs is purely an Appalachian country boy that can play the fire out of the mandolin, but does so primarily in traditional styles, but also writes his own music in those traditional styles, and also covers many a public domain tune - bringing those old tunes back into the front of the folk consciousness. I consider David Grisman and Ricky Skaggs equals on the mandolin, and they're definitely contemporaries and peers. One is primarily a country boy, and the other is really a hippie. I like them both very much.
So far as the hippie space jazz bluegrass on mandolin is concerned, I'd like to round this out with my very favourite two tunes composed by David Grisman, and also featuring another of my favourite musicians, his primary guitarist of choice, and fellow gasoline brother, Tony Rice.

The David Grisman Quintet "Pneumonia."

The David Grisman Quintet, "E.M.D."


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