Hard to believe these numbers: 2 0. 2 3. …Looks like The Future, and in many ways it is, not exactly that wonderful future we had imagined either. But Music continues to help us get through an increasingly hostile landscape. I'll just keep doing that until something else stops me.
I have received a fantastic composing commission for a West Virginia fiddle and guitar duet, with full orchestra. That should be amazingly fun, if I can get the trombone clefs right. I've hit the 12-year mark on my beautiful Artistworks Online Fiddle School, and I'm inspired to keep working on that more and more.
But what I'm really excited about, and working on A LOT lately, is this new, intense project that Mr Sun has embarked on:
Mr Sun Plays Ellington Plays Tchaikovsky...
We're going to translate the legendary and mind-blowing Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker Suite into our Acoustic String Band, the one and only Mr Sun, and record it. Should be beyond fun. We'll get a bunch of other string players on there for the big horny sound. We're trying to skip using drums, but we're not going to rule anything out... so that includes possible Dobros & banjos. Maybe.
The Project has been generously underwritten by the Freshgrass Foundation, and we will be using the Mass/MOCA recording studio in North Adams, and Mr Sun will premiere the work at the Freshgrass Festival in fall 2023.
This Suite seems to be pretty popular with the big bands. Aidan, our bassist, even toured this in Europe early in his career with the Scottish National Jazz Band. But it is pretty much undiscovered material for strings still. Maybe we can change that. Billy Strayhorn's treatment of The Nutcracker is so excellently radical, funny, loose, and personal that it just seemed right up Mr Sun's alley.
Lots of arranging, translating, transposition, further adaptation and some rearranging to do. Just as Strayhorn and Ellington completely re-imagined Tchaikovsky's monster hit, Mr Sun must do the same!… in the tradition of The Hot Club Of France, the DGQ, the Turtle Island String Quartet, and the Republic Of Strings. We'll generally play our own solos, though there are some short beautiful spots by giants such as Johnny Hodges which will be transcribed and played in their spirit.
Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary Nutcracker Suite contains some of the most beloved and familiar melodies in the Western world. Mr Sun has seized upon the inspiration of Duke Ellington’s brilliant, sly, & urbane re-interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Suite as an opportunity to salute and re-invent this wildly multi-faceted work anew, through the lens of the American String Band, a musical form which contains many styles and is presently engaged in a marathon upheaval of innovation and expansion.
The Ellingtonian versions of The Nutcracker feature both Billy Strayhorn's wide-ranging arranging genius and the interpretive genius of the band’s members, all major figures in their own right. The string band tradition, which draws from a rich well of traditional fiddling melody and African rhythm and has steadily incorporated all the streams of American popular music, is an fertile new fold in the origami of this evergreen masterpiece. Using new and self-invented rhythm techniques combined with existing melodic and ensemble techniques, the Mr Sun band will add a layer and a new facet of artistic musical thought to this work.
This is a passage from the remarkable book “Something to Live For: The Music Of Billy Strayhorn”, by Walter Van De Leur.
Mr Sun plans to premier this work in September at the illustrious FRESHGRASS festival in North Adams, Massachusetts.
We'll be recording all through Spring 2023 and plan to have the CD release available at the Freshgrass festival. We'll see you in 2023 at the Berkeley Bluegrass Festival, the Strawberry Music Festival, Grey Fox Festival, Grand Targhee and Green Mountain Festivals as well, where we'll be happy to update you on the recording's progress!
Here it is halfway through December 2022 already. Shows and traveling are done with for this year. It was quite a marathon late summer and fall, with two very good tours with the California Bluegrass Reunion, old friends, some I've known for 50 years. I'll jump over to New England to play some of Joe K Walsh's original music for a week in January, then some wild reunions at Wintergrass in late February. And my amazing Artistworks Fiddle School: I have a lot of new lessons dreamed up for that next year.
August 31, 2022: Well, that all went by fast! hot hot hot weather everywhere, but we had a truly wonderful Eand'a tour in the northeast culminating in a magical Green Mountain Music Festival. There's Eand'a's better half.
The Summer festers are coming to a close, and our Fall projects are looming more... when will there be time to do them all? Mr Sun has an amazing, huge and exciting recording project coming up. I'm slowly working on the Diary Of A Fiddler sequel, with all former fiddle students. The California Bluegrass Reunion band will be barnstorming the east and West coasts this fall. I'll possibly be getting a big composing commission, and nutty things are dropping into my lap, such as sitting in with Alison Brown's band this fall.
Those of you who might still dig vinyl discs can now order a Mr Sun record through Compass Records.
Hear Joe, Darol, Grant and Aidan as actual physical vibrations through a medium. Might be better, might not.
Wo, that's a lot of yellow. Cover doubles as a caution cone for your car.
Yellow vinyl too! Hold it up to a light (not for too long!) and let the sun shine through.
July 1, 2022
Summer is here; so is massive COVID and a lot of great music... I was happy to spend a week at Steve Kaufman's Bluegrass Kamp, though it turned out to be a superspreader event! I wore a mask in the cafeteria every day and was pretty careful and came out without the virus; a minor miracle. Maybe those 4 vaccinations helped; it's hard to prove anything about an event that is avoided. Anyway, the Kamp was a lovely experience and very mellow. I re-connected with one of my musical heroes Alan Munde and we were able to perform a little tribute to Byron Berline there. I also met a couple of great musicians whom I'd never been around before: Carlo Aonzo and Andrew Collins, both mandolinists, and folks such as Gary "Biscuit" Davis. I also played some tunes with the amazing Jim Hurst and "vibesmaster" bassist Steve Roy, who sang some great songs, including one by Mr Rogers called "I Like You".
Mr Sun has been out and about, playing shows mostly in the northeast. We'll be up there again in July, at Grey Fox Festival and various other venues scattered around New England, mostly outdoor shows. Check the Shows Schedule for specific dates and info.
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Work continues apace (a slow pace) on my various projects: mixing an EMP by the great Tom Rozum and the Rozumatix, some initial recording and assembly on the sequel to Diary Of A Fiddler; the next Mr Sun TOP SECRET project, involving 2 world-famous composers; and of course my wonderful Artistworks Fiddle School, where we as a community delve into the greatest mysteries of what it is to Fiddle Your Way Out Of A Paper Bag.
Also coming up in August: a One-time only Reunion of my EANDA band, wherein we play our Very First Acual Shows, by popular demand. This recording was apparently a very much-loved project and we're thrilled to re-create those tunes that we had so much fun recording! We'll play some shows in the Northeast, especially Club Passim in Boston and the legendary and insanely cool Green Mountain Festival in Vermont.
May 13, 2022
You can finally buy this recording! Pretty excited to share it.https://store.compassrecords.com/products/extrovert
May 1, 2022
The seasons keep a-coming. Thinking I'd be ready for whatever comes up, I find myself continually surprised by such change in the world around me. Spring in Tennessee is shocking and sudden. I find myself in a place with barky broadleaf giants and veritable mobs of flowers exploding all over. Mowing the backyard is a sculpture project, at this point there are 3 levels of trim, plus the vast canopy. I let the tall wildflowers make their own beds and mow around them. Looks like someone's brilliant landscaping job, but it's the flowers & grass telling me what to do.
Meanwhile, I hear from friends that Spring is now getting rolling in the Northeast and will be in full rage when I get up there with my band Mr Sun in mid-May. And I hope I see some of you folks. We have a very tight schedule but we are going just about everywhere in New England. If you live up there, please check out the tour dates.
The new recording has finally made it to the warehouses and we'll be hoping to distribute some to various music lovers on this journey. The official release date is May 13, but you can pre-order the CD now, here.
We're delighted to have vinyl discs for this release also, and those will be available July 20, here.
We're thrilled to be playing out again and are completely digging each others' playing. I think you'll be surprised at how much we've grown , especially for older guys. Letting the music lead you seems to take a lifetime to develop. The band's in a sweet special place and the experience is quite emotional, actually. I almost forgot how beautiful four string instruments can sound together, even after 45 years of returning to this same darn format.
It's surprising, but now it's really about the people, not the ideas... especially when we remember to depend on each other. Including the intrepid listeners. We depend on you, too.
Adding to the magic, we thought up some silly fun additional merchandise besides the recordings to bring with us. You might dig it. See us in Manhattan, Boston, Saratoga Springs, Northampton or Rockport, MA or Portland, Maine.
Purchase Extrovert here:
Single "Breaker's Bakedown" release on Bluegrass Today
Colorado with Mr Sun coming up... and a flutter of little recording projects coming in as Spring hits in Tennessee. I'm putting a nice halo of fiddling on an extraordinary spoken-word project with author Joe McHugh, decorating over a beautiful fiddling story read by the phenomenal voice of Joe Newberry. The Online Fiddle school at Artistworks.com continues to burgeon, with new lessons and ideas in the works: I'll be breaking down all the "Baker Plays Monroe" fiddle tunes over the course of the next year, at the rate of one a month. That's a good goal. Some shows in the fall for the California Bluegrass Reunion are coming together, which should be a fun ride: Freshgrass, IBMA, and the 3 Sisters Festival will be highlights there. AND! Mr Sun's recording extrovert will be finally released in May, but pre-orders can be made now through Compass records, as we turn our sun-baked minds to the next recording project: a top-secret blockbuster idea whose time has come! Details soon-ish.
Wow, a New Year and so much has already happened. Painful goodbyes to many folks, banjo players especially. We had a great little west coast blur with the California Bluegrass Reunion project, led by the redoubtable Bill Evans. I've shored up my Artistworks Fiddle School with a large infusion of lessons and interviews, taking advantage of the insane concentration of talent that is here in Nashville. I'm getting ready to work on a new recording project of duets with fiddlers who I worked with when they were youthful.
We're ramping up the year 2022 with my incredible band Mr Sun. We hae a new recording coming out May 1st, on Compass Records. Since we're all so shy, we're calling the recording "Extrovert". It's the first LP release that I'll have done since 1989.
The band just had a wonderful time at the Wintergrass festival and then barnstormed down the West Coast, spreading light and quite a few notes of note. It was wonderful to see old friends and connect in a room big enough to do it in. Still being careful, masking and such. But this band is so alive, emotional, and tells a great, coherent story in each song. I'm really happy about that.
We're going to Colorado in April... Check the "Shows" section for all the details.
Now living in Nashville, Tennessee; barely believing it. But OK. Every day is now an Extra Bonus Life Mile day...
I'm still doing a lot of fun Artistworks Fiddle School stuff and looking at a whole new landscape out the window.
Whole new internal landscape too, even though I keep having the same old Disastrous Sound Check dreams.
I get to visit with some excellent young musicians friends.
I even have some shows with Mr Sun lined up for this fall!
... And I bought my first actual purchased lawn mower.