Dawg Music : The Bluegrass Jazz of Dave Grisman and Friends

From the bluegrass/Dead nexus of the previous post, I noe move on to a sub genre of music as singular as it’s name, Dawg Music. The term is what mandolin player Dave Grisman called the music on his 1977 album The David Grisman Quintet. That record is considered to be one of the landmark recording of what is refered to as New Acoustic Music. The term New Acoustic Music is itself a somewhat nebulous but lets go with the Wikipedia definition of a “music genre that blends influences from folk, bluegrass, jazz and world music and uses only acoustic instruments” (I would personally amend it to read “primarily uses acoustic instruments”).

David Grisman did not grow up in the bluegrass tradition. He had a religious Jewish upbringing in New Jerseyand became part of the generation of musicians who approached bluegrass as fans/students of folk music. Another such musician was Jerry Garcia, someone whose path Grisman will cross later on. Maybe it was because they came to music as outsiders that they were more willing to “color outside the lines” of traditional bluegrass. Grisman was one of a circle of pickers in the ’70s who had reached such a level of virtuosity in bluegrass that they started looking for new challenges. Improvisation and musical virtuosity are common to both jazz and bluegrass so they saw jazz as a natural next step.

The music on that record added bluegrass to a modern take of the gypsy jazz of guitarist Django Reinhardt while also incorporating a more modern modal jazz vocabulary. The Django Reinhardt connection was made manifest when jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli (a playing partner of Django) performed as a special guest, both live and on record. To me, the connection between the two makes sense in that gypsy jazz is a sub genre of jazz whose instrumental tradition comes from string based bands and not horns.

The clips below feature songs from that first record though performed at later dates. I’m not sure where or when the first clip is from but it features a killer lineup of David Grisman on mandolin, Tony Rice on guitar, Mark O’Connor on violin & the late great Rob Wasserman on bass. Everyone is one fire here. The playing has this effortless flow while playing intricate lines and let me tell you, the tempo here is smokin fast.

David Grisman Quartet – E.M.D.

 

The next clip is from the t.v. show Austin City Limits from around 1980. through the years, the David Grisman Quintet went through a fair share of lineup changes. Here Mark O’Conner, who played violin in the previous clip has replaced Tony Rice on guitar while original DGQ member Darol Anger  has returned on violin.

David Grisman Quintet – Dawg’s Rag

The David Grisman Quintet went on to inspire other records, several of them made by the originals members of DGQ and I want to mention two of them in particular. The first one is by guitarist Tony Rice who made the record Acoustics soon after leaving the DGQ to pursue his own music. On Acoustics, he continues to make music that like DGQ, merged different genres like jazz, bluegrass and folk. The two videos below feature tracks from that album.

The Tony Rice Unit – Gasology

The Tony Rice Unit – Swing ’51

Finally, original DGQ violinist Darol Anger put out his version of Dawg Music with his 1981 album Fiddlistics. The record opens up with this fiery performance of a Darol Anger tune that features fellow original DGQ members Tony Rice on guitar, Mike Marshall on mandolin and bassist Todd Phillips on bass. It’s my personal favorite (for what it’s worth).

Darol Anger – Key Signator

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Posted in Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

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