Long before Marcus Mumford was a twinkle in his daddy's eye, David Grisman was bringing mandolin music to American ears.
Grisman has been recording since 1963, and his picking presence can be heard throughout the bluegrass, folk and early psychedelic rock movements. He forged collaborations with Del McCoury, Peter Rowan and Bonnie Raitt and played on the seminal Grateful Dead album American Beauty. His long friendship with the late Jerry Garcia, who granted him the nickname "Dawg," resulted in the award-winning albums Old and In the Way and Shady Grove.
At 68, Dawg continues to draw crowds with the David Grisman Quintet and the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience. He encourages other folk and bluegrass musicians with his Acoustic Disc record label and has endorsed a line of mandolins based on his formidable collection.
Grisman returns to the Savannah Music Festival with his Folk Jazz Trio, featuring his son Sam Grisman on bass and flatpicking crooner Jim Hurst. They share the bill with young mandolin virtuoso Sarah Jarosz and her trio, giving audiences a multi-toned experience of the instrument's endless possibilities.
We've had our socks knocked off plenty of times with your quintet. How does the show differ with the Folk Jazz Trio? What kind of tunes are in the repertoire?
David Grisman: The Folk Jazz Trio has a more intimate dynamic with more interplay between the guitar, bass and mandolin. Jim Hurst is a virtuoso guitarist in many styles as well as being a fabulous singer. Sam can play more bass than usually heard in a bluegrass band and this setting allows and welcomes that.
The trio has its own unique repertoire, apart from the material that I play in my quintet/sextet and the Bluegrass Experience. We play everything from Les Paul to Stephen Foster to traditional folk tunes and jazzy originals.
What's it like to play with Sam? Can he ever catch up to his old man?
David Grisman: Sam grew up owning a bass, as a good friend of ours, Bernard Glansbeek, sent him one (a Kay 3/4 size) for his second birthday. "Bass" was his first word as well. He played that bass on his first recording session at the age of 8 with me, John Hartford and Mike Seeger. He played on "Memphis"; it was done in one take and ended up on our Retrograss CD, which was actually nominated for a Grammy! So I'd say that I might have some catching up to do myself.
In truth, I'm very proud of him. He's becoming a world-class bassist with his own style. Check out his group, The Deadly Gentlemen. They definitely have their own unique thing happening; it's very well-conceived and just plain fun.
What do you think about all the young dudes playing mandolin on the radio? Are the Avetts and the Mumfords staying true to the instrument's legacy?
David Grisman: I don't really listen to music on the radio, and I'm sorry to say that I'm unfamiliar with the groups you mentioned. I am, however, a big fan of the Punch Brothers (Chris Thile) and of course, the Deadly Gentlemen (Dominick Leslie.)
There are some incredible young mandolin players out there: Josh Pinkham, Sarah Jarosz and Jake Joliff, to mention but a few. Of course, at my age, even Sam Bush, Mike Marshall and Radim Zenkl are young dudes. And how much more modern (and ancient) can any mandolin player get than Andy Statman?
Can you talk a bit about your line of mandolins from Eastman?
David Grisman: Yes, it's called the Dawg Collection, faithful replicas of instruments that I've collected through the years. The DGM-1 mandolin is a replica of a contemporary design by an incredibly innovative luthier from Genova, Italy, Corrado Giacomel. It's a very interesting Italian take on the American carved-top scroll model mandolins which were created here by Orville Gibson and his successors.
The DGM-2 mandolin is based on a unique design built by the Bacon Company in the early 1920s, their Artist model which was endorsed by mandolin virtuoso William Place. The DGM-3 is a replicated Lyon & Healy Style A mandola, which is tuned like a viola, featuring an ornate violin scroll headstock and two body points.
Any day now I'm expecting to receive the prototype of the next instrument in the series, a reproduction of a cutaway tenor guitar designed by Raphael Tieri, who built some incredible instruments in New York City during the 1920s.
Would you be so kind as to share a favorite Jerry Garcia story? How did you and Jerry influence each other's love of bluegrass and jazz?
David Grisman: Jerry and I both had very similar musical tastes and shared many musical heroes. I remember one interesting occurrence in 1975. I was rehearsing at my house in Mill Valley, Cal. with Darol Anger and Todd Phillips, who were kids at the time. During a break, I drove down into town and ran into Garcia at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream emporium. I hadn't seen him in awhile and I invited him up to the house to jam with us, which he did.
Later that afternoon I left and drove to the airport where I picked up Tony Rice who had just arrived to join us in what would become the original David Grisman Quintet. I didn't see Jerry again for 13 years. I always thought that was quite a coincidence!
What would be your dream collaboration?
David Grisman: I've already fulfilled more dreams than I probably deserve, so I won't hedge my bets.See www.dawgnet.com