Let me start by using a quote on Edgar Meyer that I actually referred to in one of my questions in our interview. The New Yorker stated that Edgar “is the most remarkable virtuoso in the relatively unchronicled history of his instrument.” This is quite a statement, but in this player’s opinion, the man walks the walk.
Edgar is truly a modern day Renaissance man. He is a seriously well respected solo classical bassist and has worked with the best of the best in that realm. I’ve heard his work on a few of Bach’s Unaccompanied Suites for Cello and his musicianship is nothing less than stunning. But his other obvious love is his quest for multifaceted musical collaborations, and this has led him to projects working with such greats as Bela Fleck, Joshua Bell, and Chris Thile. Music has no bounds in Edgar’s opinion, and his latest work might be the prime example of that. The recent release of the CD “Goat Rodeo” featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, and Chris Thile is a splendid example of cross-genre musical magic, which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to breathe in some truly contemporary compositions.
Edgar has a lot to say about his relationship with his art, and this is an interview I would recommend to those searching for a bit of inspiration in an ever-changing musical environment. His thoughts on himself and his music are as articulate as his performance under any musical conditions. Enjoy the read.
Jake: To begin with, tell me about your latest recording endeavor “Goat Rodeo”, with Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Stuart Duncan…how did this project come about?
Edgar: Yo-Yo, Chris, and I had enjoyed playing together on a recent recording of YY’s and we were looking for a way to prolong it. Chris and I thought that hearing Stuart and YY bowing together was something that we wanted to experience before we passed so we suggested this to YY, who thought it was a great idea.
Jake: You’ve been involved with a lot of shall I say cross-genre projects over the years. What keeps you on this, I’d like to say, musically progressive path?
Edgar: I don’t have an agenda one way or another regarding cross-genre projects. There are places you can only go with homogenous groups and there are other very beautiful things that can happen with mixed groups. It is important to understand that all musical styles are hybrid by nature. Even and especially styles that have partisan proponents proclaiming the pure essence that is unchanged by time need only look to the origins of their faith. Bluegrass and jazz are well known amalgams of pre-existing music. Western Classical music is a more complicated and nuanced discussion, partly because of the time span and the lack of a well defined beginning point. Additionally, there are actually a lot of different styles abiding under that same roof. It is tempting to look at Bach as a unifying force. He is certainly a musician who brought together ideas from across the continent and from multiple time periods preceding him.
Jake: I recently caught Bela Fleck and the Flectones in my home town. I know working with Bela is one of many projects you’ve collaborated on. What intrigued you about Bela?
Edgar: Bela and I have been good friends for about 30 years. We see many things the same way. I think we both try to reconcile the diverse musical information that we receive into some kind of personal system that helps us sort it out in our own way.
Jake: The New Yorker hailed you as “…the most remarkable virtuoso in the relatively unchronicled history of his instrument.” Hard as the question may be, could you tell me what has been a consistent personal musical focus for you in your career that you feel has attributed to receiving this type of notoriety?
Edgar: I am still trying to understand what I think it is that makes music meaningful. Some days I feel a little closer than others.
Jake: What does the practice schedule of one so well versed in multiple genres look like these days, and out of pure curiosity, how do you go about prioritizing what to work on?
Edgar: Realistically, with writing, travel, and many other responsibilities, I practice 1 1/2 to 2 hrs a day. I wish it was more. Prioritizing what to work on tends to be a combination of idealism and pragmatism. There needs to be forward progress on issues that are fuzzy at best, and at the same time it is important to intelligently prepare for the activities that are on the schedule for the next couple of months. Common sense is recommended.
Jake: Compositionally, you are truly all over the map, which I personally have great respect for. Knowing the compositional process is different from artist to artist, what has worked for you over the years when you sit down with pen in hand?
Edgar: The compositional process is intentionally varied with the hope of avoiding ruts. The best ideas have most often come from thinking about music and more specifically the piece I am currently working on, and then writing down the ideas on paper. The instruments are important and helpful additionally, and I do usually assemble many aspects of a piece on the computer these days, but it is important to be careful with the computer and to not let it become important to the idea of the piece.
Jake: I know you’re a multi-instrumentalist as well…piano, guitar, mandolin, and on and on. How do you feel this has impacted your approach on bass, as well as your overall musicianship?
Edgar: Playing several instruments is fun and informative, but the second instrument that matters is the piano.
Jake: What do you see not happening in 21st Century music that you’d like to see a lot more off?
Edgar: I am not sure if this makes sense or is correct, but I have some interest in seeing more music that has common sense and universal types of appeal combined with more unlimited ambition and achievement.
Jake: With the music business being (obviously in my humble opinion) not at its best, what might you suggest to an enthusiastic young player looking to make his art, his career?
Edgar: No global advice, but things that often seem to come out of my mouth:
Play piano—Get to know and get involved with people who are better that you are—
Immersion—Create a broad base of knowledge—Get to know the things that influenced the music that you love—Learn all the parts not just your own—Writers need to play, players need to write —Learn to listen, especially while playing.