Over the last four decades, Béla Fleck has made a point of boldly going where no banjo player has gone before, a musical journey that has earned him 15 Grammys in nine different fields, including Country, Pop, Jazz, Instrumental, Classical and World Music. But his roots are in bluegrass, and that’s where he returns with his first bluegrass tour in 24 years, My Bluegrass Heart.
My Bluegrass Heart is the third chapter of a trilogy which began with the 1988 album, Drive, and continued in 1991 with The Bluegrass Sessions. The second tour for the project features a who’s who of some of the greatest instrumentalists in bluegrass music’s history. Sometimes known as the Telluride House Band, sometimes as the Drive Band, containing four fifths of Strength in Numbers, half of New Grass Revival, and half of Goat Rodeo, these musicians have been intertwining in a myriad of ways since the early 1980’s and all have been major movers in the forward progression of acoustic music to the present day.
We are talking, of course, about mandolinist Sam Bush, fiddler Stuart Duncan, dobro player Jerry Douglas, bassist Edgar Meyer, and Bryan Sutton on guitar.
‘I’m thrilled to be reunited with my brothers and lifelong collaborators, it has been way too long since we have toured together. And I love their contributions to My Bluegrass Heart. They are the heart of the album!’ say’s Béla.
My Bluegrass Heart will release this fall on BMG; stay tuned for more about the album!
I’m so looking forward to reuniting with my musical brothers on tour. For folks that know bluegrass, these folks need no introduction, as they’ve been making a ton of noise in that world for some time.
Sometimes known as the Telluride House Band, sometimes as the Drive Band, containing within it four-fifths of Strength in Numbers, half of New Grass Revival, and half of Goat Rodeo, these 6 musicians have been intertwining in a myriad of ways since the early 1980’s and all have been major movers in the forward progression of acoustic music to the present day.
I first met mandolinist Sam Bush in 1979, when he was kind enough to play on my first banjo album, Crossing The Tracks. He was a huge hero to me and quite the musical dynamo. Over the eight and a half years I played in his band New Grass Revival, I probably learned more about music than any other time in my life.
With Dobro god Jerry Douglas, it’s pretty much the same story – he blew me away musically, and was the one who told me I needed to come to Nashville to join up with Sam…and was he ever right. He is another hero who has become a peer.
Edgar Meyer moved to Nashville next and turned all our worlds upside down, inspiring us with a new way of looking at the music, and a stunning ability on upright bass.
Then Stuart Duncan showed up. I prided myself on being to him what Jerry Douglas had been to me – encouraging him to move to Nashville to play with Nashville Bluegrass Band. Somehow Stuart has managed to elevate bluegrass fiddling dramatically in earthy and unexpected ways.
Meanwhile over in Ricky Skaggs’ band was a young guitarist making a lot of noise. Jerry informed me that he was one of us, and he was not wrong! When Tony Rice had to drop out of the Bluegrass Sessions tour, Bryan Sutton stepped in and knocked it out of the park. Ever since then I have loved playing with him.
When we get together it’s like family, and we draw on our long history of joyful and exciting musical interactions.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with Béla Fleck, there are many who say he’s the premiere banjo player in the world. Others claim that Fleck has virtually reinvented the image and the sound of the banjo through a remarkable performing and recording career that has taken him all over the musical map and on a range of solo projects and collaborations. If you are familiar with Fleck, you know that he just loves to play the banjo, and put it into unique settings.
A fifteen-time Grammy Award-winner, Fleck has the virtuosic, jazz-to-classical ingenuity of an iconic instrumentalist and composer with bluegrass roots. His collaborations range from his ground-breaking standard-setting ensemble Béla Fleck and the Flecktones to a staggeringly broad array of musical experiments. From writing concertos for full symphony orchestra, exploring the banjo’s African roots, and collaborating with Indian musical royalty Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Churasia with Edgar Meyer, to performing as a folk duo with wife Abigail Washburn, and jazz duos with Chick Corea, many tout that Béla Fleck is the world’s premier banjo player. As Jon Pareles wrote for The New York Times, “That’s a lot of territory for five strings.”
Sam Bush is an American original. Early on he developed an interest in music. He purchased his first mandolin at age 11, and as teen he was three-time national champion in the junior division of the National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest. Country legend Roy Acuff offered him a spot in his band, and Bush actually turned him down. It was not the music he wanted to play. He admired the grace of Flatt & Scruggs and loved Bill Monroe, but he’d discovered electrified alternatives to tradition. After playing for a year with the Bluegrass Alliance, Bush left the group and formed the New Grass Revival with some of his former bandmates.
The New Grass Revival broke new ground in the world of progressive bluegrass. “Our kind of music tended to come from the idea of long jams and rock and roll songs,” said Bush. They released chart-climbing singles, made videos, earned Grammy nominations, and in 1989, called it quits. Bush then went on to work with Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett. In 1995 he toured with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, reigniting his penchant for improvisation. Then, finally, after a quarter-century of making music with New Grass Revival and collaborating with other bands, Bush went solo. Over the past two decades he’s released seven solo albums and a live DVD. Bush has long since established himself as roots royalty, revered for both his solo and sideman work. But instead of kicking back and soaking up honors such as an Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award and suite of Grammys and International Bluegrass Music Association trophies, Bush still strives relentlessly to create something new.
Dobro master and 14-time GRAMMY winner Jerry Douglas is to the resonator guitar what Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar, elevating, transforming, and reinventing the instrument in countless ways. Additionally, Douglas is a freewheeling, forward-thinking recording and touring artist whose output incorporates elements of country, bluegrass, rock, jazz, blues, and Celtic into his distinctive musical vision.
Called “Dobro’s matchless contemporary master” by The New York Times, three-time CMA Musician of the Year award recipient Jerry Douglas is one of the most innovative recording artists in music as a solo artist, band leader for The Jerry Douglas Band and his GRAMMY winning bluegrass band The Earls of Leicester, as well as a member to a slew of groundbreaking ensembles. His distinctive sound graces more than 1500 albums, and in addition to touring, Douglas has co-produced and performed on a series of platinum albums. As Jerry Douglas continues his incalculable influence on country, Americana, bluegrass and their many related genres, he forges ahead as a true pioneer in American music.
Multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan has built upon his bluegrass roots to become an artist that defies categorization and surpasses the limits of any specific genre. The consummate sideman, Stuart has lent his particular taste and tone to countless artists and projects. Whether trading dizzying instrumental licks with the likes of Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, or adding complimentary fills for vocalists Alan Jackson and Barbara Streisand, Stuart has found a professional “home” both in the studio and on tour. From Robert Plant to Panic at the Disco, Stuart’s playing and influence can be heard among many of today’s top hit-makers.
The most recent evidence of Stuart’s cross-genre expansion is “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” his collaboration with Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer and Yo-Yo Ma. During the creative course of this recording, Stuart has opened his mind not only musically, but to a broader concept of composition as well. When not active in the studio or on tour with others, Stuart can be seen and heard with The Nashville Bluegrass Band, where he’s been a contributing member since 1985. The band has won two Grammies, multiple IBMA & SPBMA awards, and has toured globally from here at home to the Middle East and China. Together, they continue to be an outstanding representation of classic bluegrass music in America – as relevant today as when they started.
Twice named IBMA’s Bass Player of the Year, Mark Schatz has toured and recorded with a stellar array of artists including Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, John Hartford, Tim O’Brien, Nickel Creek, Claire Lynch, and Sarah Jarosz. Mark is the Musical Director for internationally acclaimed Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble which showcases other talents such as clawhammer banjo and Southern Appalachian clog dancing. This versatile multi-instrumentalist has two of his own solo recordings, Brand New Old Tyme Way and Steppin’ in the Boiler House on Rounder Records, which feature his own eclectic blend of original compositions on the banjo, and two bass instructional videos on Homespun. Mark recently launched his own solo show: Mark Schatz — The Solo Concert, in which he brings all of his skills to bear to tell his story through his own tunes and songs.
In demand as both a performer and a composer, Edgar Meyer has formed a role in the music world unlike any other. Hailed by The New Yorker as “…the most remarkable virtuoso in the relatively un-chronicled history of his instrument”, Mr. Meyer’s unparalleled technique and musicianship in combination with his gift for composition have brought him to the fore. His uniqueness in the field was recognized by a MacArthur Award in 2002.
As a solo classical bassist, Mr. Meyer can be heard on a concerto album with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff featuring Bottesini and Meyer concertos both alone and with Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell. Mr. Meyer was honored with his fifth Grammy Award in 2015 for Best Contemporary Instrumental album for his Bass & Mandolin collaboration with Chris Thile. As a composer, Mr. Meyer has carved out a remarkable and unique niche in the musical world. Collaborations are a central part of Mr. Meyer’s work, and he has been and remains a member of numerous groups whose members include Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Mike Marshall, and Amy Dorfman, among others. Currently, he teaches bass in partnership with Hal Robinson at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.