January Jams Presents: David Grisman & John Sebastian
Gilliam Stage at Barter Theatre
For Fans of: Bill Monroe, Grateful Dead, Del McCoury, Infamous Stringdusters, Lovin’ Spoonful
For nearly half a century, mandolinist / composer / bandleader / producer David Grisman has been a guiding force in the evolving world of acoustic music. His musical range is wide and deep, embracing many styles, genres and traditions.
An acoustic pioneer and innovator, David forged a unique personal artistic path, skillfully combining elements of the great American music/art forms of jazz and bluegrass with many international flavors and sensibilities to create his own distinctive idiom of "Dawg" music (the nickname given him by Jerry Garcia.) In doing so, he ís inspired new generations of acoustic string musicians, while creating his own niche in contemporary music.
Grisman discovered the mandolin as a teenager growing up in New Jersey, where he met and became a disciple of mandolinist/folklorist Ralph Rinzler. Despite warnings from his piano teacher that it wasn't a "real" instrument", David learned to play the mandolin in the style of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. He took it to Greenwich Village where he studied English at NYU, while immersed in the proliferating folk music scene of the early 1960s.
In 1963 Grisman made his first recordings both as an artist (Even Dozen Jug Band — Elektra) and producer (Red Allen, Frank Wakefield and the Kentuckians ‚ Folkways.) In 1966 Red Allen offered David his first job with an authentic bluegrass band, the Kentuckians. Grisman began composing original tunes and playing with other urban bluegrass contemporaries like Peter Rowan and Jerry Garcia, with whom he would later form Old & in the Way.
David's interests spread to jazz in 1967, while playing in a folk-rock group, Earth Opera. A failed attempt at learning to play alto sax turned him into a student of jazz musicianship and theory. His burgeoning career as a session musician gave him experience playing many types of music and opportunities to stretch the boundaries of the mandolin. His discography is filled with notables including Jerry Garcia, Stephane Grappelli, the Grateful Dead, John Hartford, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Earl Scruggs, James Taylor and Doc Watson.
After recording for major and independent labels, David founded Acoustic Disc in 1990 and entered the most prolific period of his career, producing 67 critically acclaimed CDs (five of which were Grammy-nominated.) In 2010 he launched AcousticOasis.com, the first download website devoted to acoustic music.
Recently Grisman has revisited his roots with the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience (DGBX). This very traditional group includes Keith Little on 5-string banjo, guitar and vocals, Jim Nunally on guitar and vocals, Chad Manning on fiddle, Samson Grisman on bass, with David on mandolin and vocals. Dawg also plays blues and old-time music with his old jugband-mate John Sebastian. He lives in Northern California with his wife Tracy, an artist and musician. Between them they have seven grown kids and four grandchildren.
Over four decades the contributions of John Sebastian have become a permanent part of our American musical fabric.
His group The Lovin’ Spoonful played a major role in the mid-’60s rock revolution, but what leader, singer and songwriter Sebastian had in mind was actually a counter-revolution. “We were grateful to the Beatles for reminding us our rock & roll roots,” John explains, “but we wanted to cut out the English middlemen, so to speak, and get down to making this new music as an ‘American’ band.”
This the Lovin’ Spoonful did like nobody before or since, putting their first seven singles into the Top 10. This was unprecedented, and utterly unthinkable at the height of Beatlemania. At first they’d taken older material from blues, country, folk and jug band sources – what we now term “roots music” – and made it sound modern. Then, in a series of original songs composed and sung by John Sebastian, they did the reverse, creating thoroughly modern music that sounded like it contained the entire history of American music. Which it did.
You know the songs by heart: “Do You Believe In Magic?” “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice.” “Daydream.” “Younger Girl.” “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?” “Summer In The City.” “Rain On The Roof.” “Nashville Cats.” “Six O’Clock.” “Darling Be Home Soon.” “Younger Generation.” These songs did more than simply answer the British invasion, they carried the musical tradition into the future.
Thankfully John’s induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 hasn’t slowed him down. Whether the stage is at Carnegie Hall or a folk festival in some far-flung locale, John is still out there spreading his gospel of American roots music. He is the subject of the PBS special Do You Believe In Magic: The Music of John Sebastian, and an album of duets with David Grisman was released in 2007. He has also lent his music in support of social, environmental and animal rights causes. Recently he joined a delegation of songwriters (including Lamont Dozier, Allen and Marilyn Bergman, and Mike Stoller) in Washington, DC to campaign on behalf of the National Music Publisher’s Association.
Perhaps because it has been the product of heart and soul and history, the oldest song in the Sebastian catalog is as fresh and vital as the song he’s about to write tomorrow. That’s why you still hear his music everywhere – in movies, on television, in cover versions and samples – and why it’s always welcome. John is also a welcome media presence; his commentary, insights and anecdotes and stories are regularly featured in print, radio, TV and film documentary projects. John Sebastian is not only a master musician, writer and performer, he remains one of the best ambassadors American music has ever had.
Tickets: $57.50 or buy Weekend tickets for $75 (David Grisman & John Sebastian on Jan. 19 and Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen with Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley on Jan. 20).