Hillbilly Jazz is a form of music created by fiddle virtuoso Vassar Clements. Besides being one of the freshest sounds to come from Nashville, it is commercial, listenable, danceable and very enjoyable. Hillbilly Jazz is music that could and should get mass recognition, something the diehard followers have known and declared for years.
Hillbilly Jazz is an amalgam of the diverse influences that have touched Vassar throughout his career, but it's particularly a composite of his country background and his affinity for the jazz and swing music of his youth. Early in his career, Vassar learned Bluegrass and country styles while working with the like of Bill Monroe, et al., but he's also gained respect as a jazz player. His duet album with the legendary jazz fiddler Stephane Grappelli, "Together At Last" led to his fifth grammy nomination.
Vassar says, "actually I heard more swing than country or bluegrass while I was growing up in Florida. I've always loved that kind of rhythm." Back then he was just a young fiddler, naively interpreting on his instrument the sounds he was hearing his Big Band idols play.
"I used to sit in with combos in Florida, and I even won dance contests during the Big Band era. I was playing jazz along with them, but at this time, I had never heard of Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venutti or any of those great guys. Neither had I ever heard much western swing by Bob Wills. Somehow, I think the swing style, subconsciously has always come through in almost everything I've played."
Vassar has always been open-minded to new ideas and seemingly has been able to find common musical and philosophical bonds with anyone from the diversified roster of Artists who have enlisted his talents. He always seems emotionally caught up in his performances. As his bow glides effortlessly across the strings, his eyes closed, head cocked and a pensive expression on his face, it's as if he is lost in another world.
Hillbilly Jazz is an uninhibited and unabashed expression of Vassar's open-minded approach to music, people and life in general. In the true tradition of all the great musical stylists, Vassar has rejected the straitjacket of labeling. This has resulted in a natural blend of the creative freedom in jazz and the to the point honesty of country. He performs with the depth of someone who has lived a lot and as if his soul has been prepared to play his Hillbilly Jazz.
Instrumentally, Vassar boldly blazes a trail for his band. His fiddle solos soar and glide gently over the rhythm in a manner reminiscent of saxophonist Lester Young's work with the Count Basie Band decades ago. But what perhaps surprises even Vassar's most ardent admirers is his vocals, another definite statement of his affection for cultural roots and family ties.
But just as Bill Monroe is to bluegrass, Elvis Presley to rock and roll, and Bob Wills was to Western Swing, so will and should be Vassar Clements to the field of Hillbilly Jazz.
There may be many imitators, but Vassar Clements will always remain the king of Hillbilly Jazz.