To call Mark O'Connor the best violin player in the world is really selling the man short. In addition to playing on over 500 albums (as a studio musician and recording artist), O'Connor is a world-famous composer whose 1994 "Fiddle Concerto" set a unique precedent with its amalgamation of traditional classical motifs and elements of American folk music. Rising to prominence in the late '70s as a protg of legendary violinist Stephane Grappelli, O'Connor has been one of folk music's leading innovators ever since. Having collaborated with artists from across the musical spectrum, including Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Wynton Marsalis, and Chris Thile from the band Nickel Creek, O'Connor is a consummate musician whose eclecticism never gets in the way of his stylistic authenticity.
O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio, which also includes bassist John Burr and guitarist Frank Vignola, will perform at Pueblo's Sangre de Cristo Center on Monday, April 26, in support of their most recent release, In Full Swing, which revels in the glory of Grappelli and Reinhardt-style gypsy jazz while making articulate forays into rhythmic jazz and elegiac Appalachian folk.
The Independent spoke with O'Connor about his role in shaping the contemporary American musical landscape.
Independent: You've had a tremendous impact on the way in which the violin is played in folk, jazz and classical settings. Has it always been your goal to revolutionize your instrument?
Mark O'Connor: My whole life I've been trying to amalgamate my style of violin playing into classical theory. Now, for young string players, Appalachian music is part of their training and I'm proud of that. That's the best legacy I could ask for.
Indy: How does playing with the Hot Swing Trio differ from other musical projects you've been affiliated with?
O'Connor: Groove, or rhythm, is the most important aspect of Hot Swing. The energy just elevates and everything is transformed.
Indy: Having written everything from full-blown orchestral compositions to gypsy-jazz to Appalachian music, does the process of composing vary depending on the genre?
O'Connor: Not really. When I hear an idea for a theme, I have to identify it stylistically, but then it just manifests itself. I've been writing that way for a long time.
Indy: So would you consider yourself an instinctual musician?
O'Connor: Well, let's just say I'm more comfortable on loose footing, where I'm not exactly sure what I want to do next. I'm better able to perceive things without thinking about them.
Indy: That sounds very Zen.
O'Connor: Well, you don't start out with a great comprehension of philosophical desires, but at this point, everybody I see and play with means something [to me]. So with that perspective, I can't approach anything as a " throwaway." I really want it all to mean something.
Indy: Is there something to be said for stylistic purity, or do you find that the integration of various styles makes your music richer?
O'Connor: I personally am proud of the integration of American folk traditions into the classical setting. I guess I'm really an experimentalist at heart.
Indy: Can you draw a distinction between the means and the end?
O'Connor: Yes, in the sense that I consider myself a modern music innovator, and I use tradition as my language.
Indy: You've played with some of the most formidable musicians in the world. Is there anybody whom you still dream of working with?
O'Connor: We're creating and training new musicians right now who are going to be amazing someday. That's who I dream of working with.
-- Joe Kuzma
capsule Mark O'Connor with Hot Swing Trio
Monday, April 26, 7:30 p.m.
Sangre de Cristo Arts Center Theater, 210 N. Santa Fe Ave., Pueblo
For more, call: 719/295-7222