You only think you haven't heard Edgar Meyer. If you're a fan of roots music?#34;whether its Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck or The Chieftains?#34;you've most likely heard his nimble figures dance across a fret board. If you haven't, Dominican University brings the world renowned double bassist to its stage on Jan. 29 with Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile for one of the most potent evenings of stylistic diversity and instrumental prowess in its entire 2004-2005 performing arts series.
And, as many of you know, that's saying something.
Amidst a busy holiday schedule and rehearsals for his upcoming tour, Meyer spoke with WEDNESDAY JOURNAL. In his characteristically measured, thoughtful manner, he commented on his upbringing as a musician, his disregard for commercial and musical barriers, and the special repertoire he's bringing to his performance in River Forest.
WEDNESDAY JOURNAL: You've covered a lot of ground stylistically over the years. Is that restlessness on your part or is it more about the way music is evolving?Edgar Meyer: I would say yes to both, but I think primarily it has to do with the way I've looked at music since I was quite young. I find that a lot of the ways things are grouped to be of some use, but often artificial and driven by non-musical motivations. At the same time, categories are real. It's not as though there isn't a difference between Italian opera and Indian classical music, but those differences aren't nearly as rigid as they're made out to be.
WJ: Not many people would see an immediate connection, for instance, between bluegrass and classical. Yet you've spent a great deal of time in both camps. How do you connect those dots?
EM: If you are playing, for instance, early classical period and baroque music, there are a lot of stylistic similarities in terms of playing a little leaner, smaller and more rhythmically. That's one overlap with bluegrass. An analogy might be Bill Evans showing up in Miles Davis' band and this sort of crossroad where a lot of information is brought back and forth.
WJ: From whom did you take your cues as a young, developing musician?
EM: I was very influenced by my father, who was a bass player and just really loved music. His record collection was jazz and classical and that's still predominantly what I listen to. When I was between 14 and 16, old-time and traditional music really got my ear. There was a timeless feeling to it and the collection of instruments was a real fit for someone playing double bass. For example, with jazz if you are playing acoustically with drums and piano and sax and brass, you're very small. I love the role that a bass plays in jazz, but it is very heavily defined by that acoustic, and attempts to change that have been frustrating. When I sit in a room with a mandolin or banjo, there's more of an opportunity for dialogue. I can play the instrument in a complete manner.
WJ: You're performing at Dominican University as part of a brief tour with Chris Thile, whose musical vocabulary is fairly broad as well. How did this collaboration come about and how did you settle on specific material for the tour?
EM: Chris' vocabulary is actually much broader than what has been presented publicly or even in his recorded music. His father was a bass player and I've always been especially interested in mandolin players, and so he and I had a little extra to talk about. Two years ago, we did a couple of summer concerts, and we sort of threw together stuff from different situations. This time, he's been here for about a week rehearsing with me on our own more original repertoire.
WJ: What can we expect to hear?
EM: We are including a few songs from Chris' solo records, but, generally, they are songs that he hasn't done in bands. There are three movements of violin and bass duos that I recorded with Josh Bell and the way Chris plays [Bell's] material on mandolin completely redefines it. I feel as though we're presenting new pieces. I have a tendency to include Bach in a live setting as well. Bach's both the center of my musical universe and I think he translates well. We've also written 30 minutes of music specifically for this tour. We wanted to create an identity for the duo and take advantage of what is unique about the two of us.
WJ: Are there plans to record together following the tour?
EM: No. I get a little worn out with the business of music and trying to connect all of the dots. There's always this pressure to maximize your opportunity. If you're performing, then you ought to record the material, have the recording out by such and such a time, and then promote it in this way. It really doesn't take long for that whole process to drive what you're doing. This is something I felt was really special and I didn't want it to be pushed around by all of that stuff. While I do have a range of people I work with, I'm not very excited about one-time projects. My hope is that we'll do this again.
For more information or to purchase tickets for Edgar Meyer's performance with Chris Thile at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29, call the Dominican University box office at 524-6942.