David Grisman is widely considered as the most influential mandolin player in the 2nd generation of bluegrass. He is known and associated not just with bluegrass, but also for his jazz and folk influence. The meshing of these genres was often difficult to classify. When asked what style of music he played, Grisman would often refer to his style of mandolin as “dawg music.”
Although mandolin is the instrument Grisman is widely known for, he was versed in playing piano and saxophone by the time he was teenager. He attended college at New York University. In 1966, Grisman joined Red Allen and the Kentuckians as a mandolin picker. Eventually he joined the group Earth Opera, a dynamic rock group that blended folk, rock, country, and jazz.
After two albums with Earth Opera, Grisman began collaborating with Grateful Dead member, Jerry Garcia. He recorded with the Grateful Dead on the album ‘American Beauty’ and continued to collaborate with Jerry Garcia on their well known project Old & In The Way. Later, with collaboration with others, the two formed the American String Band. Grisman’s time with the American String Band allowed him to develop his trademark style of energetic improvized breaks. Other members of the original band included notable contributions from Taj Mahal and Richard Greene.
The Great American String Band: 6-13-1974 Keystone, Berkeley, CA
Later on, Grisman formed a new group called the David Grisman Quintet, which recorded the breakthrough album ‘Hot Dawg.” It was at this time that he truly began to be recognized as a leader in the “newgrass” movement, as it incorporated elements of jazz, long improvizations, while maintaining so elements of traditional bluegrass.
The group recorded two albums, separating shortly after. Notable banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck then collaborated with Grisman for several recording sessions. Fleck has mentioned Grisman as a strong musical influence on his own work.
Grisman has recorded over 40 albums, and received 5 Grammy nominations. Throughout his career he is noted for playing many classic bluegrass songs like Bill Monroe’s ‘Moonlight Waltz’ and Django Reinhardt’s ‘Swing 42.’ He is one of the most sought after mandolin player to live and can truly be credited as one of the pioneers in the bluegrass genre.
The following includes a compilation and interview of Grisman tracks recorded throughout the expanse of his long and rich career: