Born in 1960 in Tulsa, OK; son of a bass player; married to Connie Heard (a violinist); children: one son. Education: Studied at Georgia Tech before transferring to Indiana University. Addresses: Management--IMG Artists, 825 Seventh Ave. New York, NY 10019, (212) 489-8300.
Double-bass player and composer Edgar Meyer has won critical accolades for his work in such distinctly different musical fields as classical and bluegrass. He tours, performs, and records with such musicians as Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, and has garnered respect both for his compositions and virtuosity. He also has been praised for his work in the bluegrass genre, having been a member of the 1986-92 superstar bluegrass band Strength in Numbers, which respectively included mandolin, dobro, violin, and banjo virtuosi Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Mark O'Connor, and Bela Fleck. He continued to record and perform with various combinations of Strength in Numbers members through the early 2000s, playing both traditional songs and new compositions by Meyer and others that are steeped in Appalachian and Celtic musical traditions. Of these albums, Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey, both collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor, are the most popular and critically acclaimed; the latter earned the trio a Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album in 2000. Meyer won two more Grammy Awards in 2001, including one for Perpetual Motion, his collaboration with Bela Fleck.Meyer's solo work in more traditional chamber music is also noted for its incorporation of American and Celtic musical sounds, and has drawn comparisons to the work of Aaron Copland.
All the instruments he has played for extended periods hold some connection to his father. The first was a bass from Czechoslovakia that was made in 1933. Meyer's father bought the instrument for $25. "It was a flower planter at the time; it had fallen off the back of a truck and people had hung it from the ceiling," he explained on the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center website. Meyer also has played an instrument that was made in the 1800s, which his father purchased in the early 1960s. The instrument that he plays most often, however, is a 1769 bass built by Johann Baptiste Gabrielli in 1769. "My father ran into Sam Hollingsworth playing it in the '50s. Hollingsworth sold it to George Hofer in the late '50s and he decided to sell it in 1983. It's the instrument my father was really ambitious to have since before I was born," Meyer commented.
Meyer was born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and moved with his family to Oakridge, Tennessee, when he was four years old. He displayed an interest in music at an early age, but focused mainly on playing bass. "My father played the bass and from age two or three I was very interested in playing the bass. I don't remember anything much before five years old, but there are pictures of me with a broom pretending it was a bass. My parents tried to get me to play violin instead but I insisted on bass, and by age five I was playing one," he reminisced on the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center website. "I invested my personality in the instrument before it was a conscious decision," he continued, "it was my natural mode of expression since before I remember. It was a complete identification with it--that was who I was and what I did, which was combined with an insatiable curiosity about music from the earliest ages."
Intending to study mathematics, Meyer enrolled at Georgia Technological University; he eventually transferred to Indiana University, where he changed his major to music and studied with bass teacher Stuart Sanky. He also took advantage of the opportunity to play with famed double-bass players Gary Hoffman and Jamie Buswell. During this period, he appeared on a recording by Bela Fleck, and eventually moved to Nashville. His first major label recording was as a session musician on Vince Gill's "Colder than Winter." When he asked Fleck to help him record a demo tape, the banjo player brought along dobro player Jerry Douglas and mandolin player Sam Bush for the session. They gave the tape to MCA Nashville executive Tony Bride, who released Meyer's Unfolding as part of the label's Masters Series.
Meyer's demo group of musicians began to evolve into the band Strength by Numbers, beginning as a loose contingent that together and separately played the bluegrass festival at Telluride, Colorado, during the mid-1980s. Meyer also continued to work as a session musician in Nashville, contributing to recordings by country stars Garth Brooks, Hank Williams, Jr., Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, Reba McIntyre, and Travis Tritt, as well as recordings by Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, the Indigo Girls, T-Bone Burnett, the Chieftains, and Bruce Cockburn.
His collaboration with violinist Mark O'Connor and cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the 1996 recording Appalachia Waltz earned him performances on the David Letterman Show as well as the 1997 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Recorded in four days in Nashville in August of 1995, Appalachia Waltz prompted O'Connor to remark in the CD's liner notes: "Edgar's going to create a new breed of bass player by his presence both in the Chamber Music Society [of Lincoln Center] and at the various festivals in which he participates. He's going to inspire a new level to attain."
Appalachia Waltz remained on the classical charts for 16 weeks, and became an impetus for the trio's Grammy Award-winning album Appalachian Journey. In 1997 Meyer collaborated with Fleck and mandolin player Mike Marshall on Uncommon Ritual; he also opened the 1997-98 season of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In 1998 Meyer teamed with Joshua Bell, Mike Marshall, and Sam Bush to record Short Trip Home, which resulted in a national tour, a Grammy Award nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album, and an opportunity to perform on the national telecast of the awards ceremony. Meyer also performed regularly in a bluegrass trio with guitarist Russ Barenberg and Jerry Douglas.
While recognized as a country musician and the architect of a chamber music-bluegrass hybrid, Meyer is also respected for his classical work. From 1985-93, he was a guest at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, composing six works for the festival during this period. Meyer premiered his Bass Concerto with Edo de Waart and the Minnesota Orchestra in 1993, and joined the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1994, the same year that he became the first bass player to be awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant. In 1995 he premiered his Quintet for Bass and String Quartet with the Emerson String Quartet. His Double Concerto for Bass and Cello, performed with Carter Brey on cello and Jeffrey Kahane conducting the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival Orchestra, was underwritten by a grant that same year from the Meet the Composer/Reader's DigestCommissioning Programme.
Meyer released his recording of Schubert's "Trout" Quintet and "Arpeggione" Sonata with Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax in 1996. In 1999 Meyer's work appeared on Listen to the Storyteller: A Trio of Musical Tales from around the World, an album that also contained compositions by Patrick Doyle and Wynton Marsalis. In 2002 Meyer premiered two new compositions, Double Concerto for Cello and Double Bass and Concerto in D for Double Bass and Orchestra, which prompted L.A. Times critic Josef Woodard to write: "Echoes of Copland, Minimalism and Bill Monroe, and perhaps a hint of klezmer, pass through the score. Intersecting lines, gracefully tumbling arpeggios, and phrases that can only be called riffs for the strings cleverly underline the clarinet's cryptic melodic statements. This is not to say, however, that it's a cheeky stylistic pastiche. Creative logic lines its path. With this music ... the composer deploys polyrhythmic ideas and a cerebral approach. These strategies, though, don't detract from the basic visceral charm and a certain languid beauty. Country music in the chamber? It's no stretch, given Meyer's able hands and mind."
by Bruce Walker
Edgar Meyer's Career
Released solo album, Unfolding, 1985; member of bluegrass band Strength in Numbers, 1986-92; collaborated with Mark O'Conner and Yo-Yo Ma on Appalachia Waltz, 1996; collaborated with Bela Fleck and Mike Marshall on Uncommon Ritual, 1999; collaborated with Joshua Bell, Sam Bush, and Mike Marshall on Short Trip Home, 1999; released Meyer & Bottesini Concertos with guest instrumentalists Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, 2002.
Edgar Meyer's Awards
Won Zimmerman-Mingus Bass Competition, 1981; Avery Fisher Career Grant, 1994; Avery Fisher Prize, 2000; Grammy Award, Best Classical Crossover Album for Appalachian Journey (with Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor), 2000; Grammy Awards, Instrumental Arrangement for "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" from The Children's Corner by Claude Debussy, and Classical Crossover Album for Perpetual Motion (with Bela Fleck and others), 2001; MacArthur Foundation Grant, 2002.
- Selected discography
- (With Strength by Numbers)Strength by Numbers , MCA, 1986.
- Work in Progress , MCA, 1990.
- Schubert: Trout Quintet , Sony, 1996.
- (With Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor) Appalachia Waltz , Sony, 1996.
- (With Bela Fleck and Mike Marshall) Uncommon Ritual ,Sony, 1997.
- Quintet: Rorem: Quartet No. 4 , Deutsch Grammophon, 1998.
- Listen to the Story Teller: A Trio of Musical Tales from around the World , Sony, 1999.
- (With Joshua Bell, Sam Bush, and Mike Marshall)Short Trip Home , Sony, 1999.
- (With Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor) Appalachian Journey , Sony, 2000.
- (With Bela Fleck)Perpetual Motion , Sony, 2001.
- Meyer & Bottesini Concertos , Sony, 2002.
- Bach: Unaccompanied Cello Suites , Sony, 2002.
- Concerto No. 2 for Double-Bass and Orchestra , Sony, 2003.
- Billboard, August 10, 1996, p. 1(2).
- Other Side, November 1999, p. 25
- U.S. News and World Report, April 3, 2000, p. 64.
- "A Talk with Edgar Meyer," Bass Frontiers, http://www.bassfrontiers.com/articles/edgar (August 30, 2002).
- "Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Presents New Work by Edgar Meyer at Lafayette Feb. 8," Lafayette University, http://www.lafayette.edu/press/releases/chambermusicsociety.html (August 30, 2002).
- "Edgar Meyer," Andrew De Grado Foundation, http://www.andrewdegrado.org/adv_board/edgar.htm (August 30, 2002).
- "Edgar Meyer Discography," St. Paul Sunday, Minnesota Public Radio, http://www.saintpaulsunday.org/discographies/disc_meyer.html (August 30, 2002).
- Edgar Meyer Official Website, http://www.edgarmeyer.com (August 30, 2002).
- "Edgar Meyer's Classics for Everyday Folk," Los Angeles Times, http://events.calendarlive.com/.../1,1419,L-LATimes-Calendar-0!ArticleDetail-20254,00.htm (August 30, 2002).
- "The Grass is Sometimes Bluer: Edgar Meyer," Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, http://www.chambermusiclincctr.org/bios/meyer.htm (August 30, 2002).
- Sony Classical, http://www.sonyclassical.com/artists/meyer/index.html (August 30, 2002).
- Additional information was obtained from the liner notes to Appalachia Waltz, Sony, 1996, and Short Trip Home, Sony, 1999.