OK, I'm 70 now. Add a bit of COVID into the mix and it's a Full Transition.
So grateful to all the wonderful folks who sent me their good wishes and love over the Birthday Weekend.
It's been another Very Packed-out Month. Mixes are done on the Ellington/Tchaikovsky Project.
An amazing evening on the Ryman Auditorium Stage with the Watkins Family Hour.
Beautiful tours in Northern California and New England… a wonderful visit to my old haunts around Santa Cruz.
I headed out to the Czech Republic for a big friends' Anniversary Party – A couple of days in Prague.
Getting ready for summer. Its coming on! Lots of great music camps: Swannanoa, Targhee, and this incredible fantasy camp in… Italy!
Everyone should come to that one.
What a month! Packed, as they say. This kind of thing was not what I was envisioning for my Later-In-Life After-Party. But it's constantly amazing.
Right on the February-March cusp, I attended Wintergrass near my old home place in Seattle, and covered 2 special projects: Pas De Cinq (videos coming soon) and a Fiddlers 4 reunion…documentation of that will happen as well… too much going on right now… can’t believe I’m taking time to report this!
Started off March by recording some mind-blowing tracks for Wes Corbett's next project with Sam Bush, Chris Eldridge, Casey Campbell, Todd Phillips, Paul Kowert (2 different sessions). Then we tracked most of the Mr Sun project MrSun Plays Ellington Plays Tchaikovsky up at Studio 9 in North Adams, MA . My old buddy the redoubtable Dave Sinko managed the inputs and outputs. The whole project was generously funded by the Freshgrass Foundation, and we got the best use out of that place, thanks to its managing engineer, my other old buddy Dave Dennison. What an amazing studio space!
Right after that, I zoomed down to Orlando with the whole band and Sharon Gilchrist to the American String Teachers’ Conference, I received the American String Teachers' Association Artist-Teacher Award for services rendered over 30 years of teaching folks how to achieve their goals on bowed string instruments.
ASTA is a fantastic organization and I have learned so much from the other dedicated string teachers from all over the world who convene every year. It's a great honor, and I'm grateful and it makes me want to do better.
Here are my acceptance speech notes:
Artist-Teacher: a nice distinction, and a real honor to be acknowledged to be sharing both descriptors.
This observation may be obvious, but I feel that I’m in a category of humans who found it much more challenging to be a teacher than an artist.
As in the art, I had to make my own way to some extent, because of lack of a clear path, my contrariness and bull-headedness, and some bad examples early on – which did help me decide how not to be.
Thanks to Bob Phillips for his surprising, steady, appreciations and advocacy.
Also to my fellow Artist-Teachers who share this hallowed patch of musical ground and have given me crucial help to develop what skills I have:
Matt Glaser, David Baker, Julie Lyonn Leiberman, David Balakrishnan, Renata Bratt, Chris Howes, Mike Marshall, Miriam Rabson, Rob Thomas, Tracy Silverman, Alasdair Fraser; Their generosity boggles my mind.
My inspirers are too many to name here – The few most important who come to mind are David Grisman, Tony Rice, Marsh Leicester, David Baker, Dr. Billy Taylor – but it’s important to note, I think, that so many teach by example and the lessons are thick on the ground if you can learn to find them. That’s teachable.
Also important to note that some of the best lessons come from your students.
And Apologies to the many, both older and younger and brilliant,
who share this same role whom I haven’t named here.
Thanks also to the people who have believed in me from a place of pure love: Sharon, Emy, Joe, Grant, the Haas family, and many beloved others.
The Previous Awardees include Itzhak Perlman 2022, Edgar Meyer 2021, Jeffrey Irvine 2020, Mimi Zweig 2019, Roland and Almita Vamos 2018, Jamie Laredo 2017, Sylvia Rosenberg 2016 Kim Kashkashian 2015, Paul Kantor 2014, Matt Glaser 2013, Paul Rolland 2012.
Then the band & I ripped on a concert for the teachers and students, celebrating Vassar Clements who was born just a few miles away in Kissimmee, FL and my mentor David Grisman, pretty close to his birthday date.
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AAAAAANNND THEN… a short tour with the amazing and wonderful multi-mandolinist Ethan Setiawan, celebrating to imminent release of his wonderful new survey of Acoustic String Band styles, GAMBIT, which I produced and played on.
…Right up to now, when I'm recording a bunch of new Artistworks Fiddle School lessons and– this just in- I'm drafted to play some mandolin with Mike Marshall's GER Mandolin Orchestra at the Savannah Music Festival…
All you Northern Californians get ready for Mr Sun to Appear in your areas:
Santa Cruz April 20, Berkeley April 21, San Francisco April 22 (see Shows)
Wow, this is shaping up to be quite a year… The Big Bounceback is bouncing a bit far, and right in my face at 120 miles an hour… but I'll take it. It's good to still be here and capable of moving. This Ellington/Mr Sun project (see below) is taking up a huge amount of bandwidth, but it's super-exciting… I haven't had this intense a translation project since Turtle Island days. The band is doing it! Everyone's deep in Adaptation/translation mode, for the recording up at Mass/MOCA in March, and we've already finished tracking 2 pieces of the 9-piece suite. If we get really energetic, we might even adapt something from the Ballet and jam on it Coltrane-style, in the Strayhorn Spirit. So grateful to the Freshgrass Foundation for making the production budget a thing of beauty. Got an Orchestral composing commission going on the side, and I keep getting asked to record stuff right here in Nashville, Music City, USA… I'm amazed! I'm working on Banjo Genius Wes Corbett's new project currently, so exciting to make some music with a fellow Cascadian. Got the amazing WINTERGRASS festival coming up, with one people I LOVE playing with, but we're basically starting almost from scratch with two insanely monumental bands: The Fiddlers 4, for our first show in 20 years, and a new band of old friends Pas De Cinq, with the brilliant-beyond-belief Haas sisters, Nyckleharpist Amy Hakansson, and genius foot percission percusssionist Nic Gareiss. Wo.
AND TOURING! California in April, Bluegrass Fester at the Freight & Salvage! So happy to be returning to Santa Cruz April 20 with Mr Sun!
And playing pretty-damn-close-to-Jazz at the legendary Kuumbwa Jazz Center too.
Santa Cruz …so much history for me there. Coming down there in 1971 for College at UCSC, back when Porter just had a number, which was “5”. Getting the Harry Smith Anthology right in the gut with the best possible commentary buy the great Marsh Leicester, who also turned Jerry Garcia on to folk music, though I never knew that at the time. I’ve spent a bit of time down there in the last few years as well, because of my old friends there who never left… smart folks…watching my friends start their Bagel company and the old Union Grove Music store. Now it’s soul-cleansing to watch the perennial surfers and the Monterey Peninsula still just a-hovering out there as near-eternal as things will get here on this planet anyway.
So many memories of sitting in with Annie Steinhardt’s band at the old Catalyst, playing wild power-grass on Pacific Avenue with banjo pioneer George Stavis, doing the pizza-parlor Bluegrass thing with the Fresno Bluegrass Pilgrim Surfer-guys Sweetwater, building mandolins and exasperating the amazing luthier David Morse in the basement of my house on Mission Street, discovering weed, getting under the VW bus with the feeler gauges twice a week, hanging with Richard Hoover before Santa Cruz Guitars was a thing, playing fiddle up in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Lacey J Dalton, commuting hundreds of times on Hwy #1 up to & back from Dawg’s tree house in Mill Valley, riding the roller coaster 12 times in a row with Tony Rice who just couldn’t get enough of that…. And more recently playing the Rio Theatre with Mike Marshall and Vasen… amazing times. How did I fit that all into 4 years?
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.