Vassar Clements, Bluegrass Virtuoso

Vassar Clements plays the fiddle.

Vassar Clements was a leading figure in a musical genre he and others referred to as "hillbilly jazz." hide caption

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Mandolin player David Grisman pays tribute to fiddle great Vassar Clements, who died this week at 77. Grisman says Clements was a Nashville virtuoso and "one of the architects of bluegrass."

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Vassar Clements died this week at the age of 77. He was one of Nashville's most famous and accomplished fiddlers, known for both his bluegrass and country music and his collaborations with The Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffett, The Byrds, Bonnie Raitt and maybe most famously The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their album, "Will the Circle be Unbroken."

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Mandolin player David Grisman performed with Vassar Clements in the all-star bluegrass group Old & In the Way. Mr. Grisman joins us now from Nashville.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. DAVID GRISMAN (Mandolin Player): Well, thanks for having me.

SIMON: Read all these obits about Vassar Clements and you keep seeing the word `virtuoso.'

Mr. GRISMAN: He certainly was a virtuoso, but, you know, he was a lot more than that. He was, of course, one of the architects of bluegrass music. He started at the top playing fiddle for Bill Monroe and his bluegrass boys. His first session with Bill produced quite a few classic recordings, most notably the new mule skinner blues. But Vassar had a much broader musical vision that extended into almost every genre of music.

SIMON: What was--I guess it's been described as hillbilly jazz. What was that style?

Mr. GRISMAN: Well, a lot of these terms, you know, are kind of meaningless to me. You know, Vassar, like all master musicians, had his own voice, his own uniqueness. You know, he came from Florida. He didn't read or write music, but he was influenced by everything he heard and he incorporated this into a very personal and powerful style, which I think any term like `hillbilly jazz' or, you know, any of these general musical terms just don't come up to what he created. They don't indicate the magnificence of what he did.

SIMON: Mr. Grisman, thanks very much.

Mr. GRISMAN: Thank you.

SIMON: David Grisman remembering his friend, Vassar Clements, who died this week at his home in Tennessee at the age of 77.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Twenty-two minutes before the hour.

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