Sunday, July 8, 2007

Grey Fox Cellists: Rushad Eggleston

Other than me :-), there will be two cellists that I know of at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival: Rushad Eggleston, who plays with Crooked Still and other bands, and Ben Sollee, who plays with Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, and Casey Driesen in the Sparrow Quartet. More on Ben Sollee later.

I met Rushad Eggleston at the first Grey Fox festival I went to two years ago. He and a bass player were doing a workshop called the Low and Lonesome Sound. I had already signed up to go to the Maine Fiddle Camp where he was teaching cello, so I went over and introduced myself and my daughter, who also went to the Maine Fiddle Camp with me. This is one of the things I like about Grey Fox: being able to talk to the musicians.

His workshop was outstanding, his cello playing inventive and ear-catching. He has great musical credentials: first string player to receive a full scholarship to Berklee School of Music in Boston (a jazz and rock orientation, and studied with Eugene Friesen, another of my favorite improvisational cellists.) He seemed a little shy.

I missed his performance on the main stage, that year with Darol Anger's Republic of Strings, because I had to do the "instrument petting zoo" in that time slot. But I had him as a teacher for almost a full week at Maine Fiddle Camp with about a dozen other cellists of all levels. He's not shy; he is crazy, and his teaching method is all his own. He yells out rhythms, he jumps around, he tells stories using only funny sound effects with his cello, he sings. He taught accompaniment techniques more than tunes. "What's the point of learning another tune in fiddle camp when you could be learning techniques you can use on all tunes." Makes sense to me.

But, when I took a break from cello to join one of the fiddle groups and suggested I use one of his chops and grooves techniques, the fiddle teacher said "No, his techniques are not suitable for traditional fiddle groups." So I learned another tune on the fiddle instead. And I didn't really try his accompaniment techniques with our fiddle group at home, thinking I would get the same reaction here. (Now I know they would be receptive, but need to work out some accompaniments before plunging in.)

We all had an individual 15-minute lesson with Rushad. He taught me a tune because I wanted him to teach me how to learn by ear. I didn't do all that well. I remember him saying, "It's an A! It's an open A!" when I couldn't tell which note to play next. :-) But, in that 15 minutes I did learn "Cluck Old Hen" and a chord-chopping accompaniment to it. And I have a tape of the lesson.

Rushad was a pied piper among the many kids at camp, being one himself, running around with them, playing games with them. There were faculty concerts every night at fiddle camp, and his improvisational cello playing/accompanying was always a hit. Rushad and his friends also play in Band of Snee, which is Rushad at his craziest, singing fast-paced, complicated lyrics about a Dr. Seuss-like land while playing the cello at a frenetic pace, often with the kids and a few stray adults singing along.

I saw him again at Grey Fox last year, this time playing with Crooked Still, a band I love. They take the old traditional fiddle tunes and infuse new life, rhythm, and jubilation into them. And without a fiddle! Members play cello, banjo, bass, and vocal/guitar. Creative and energetic. He also did a workshop, this time including Aoife O'Donovan, Crooked Still's vocalist.

This year, Crooked Still has two performances, and I am looking forward to hearing them.

I couldn't decide on one YouTube video, so here are three:

A relatively calm "Ecstasy"

An energetic "Mountain Jumper" (a Band of Snee tune)

And an interesting "Come on in My Kitchen" with Rushad on an elevated platform and wearing his more usual wild and crazy clothing.


Terry said...

You had a lesson from the great and crazy Rushad! I'm jealous.

Maricello said...

I shouldn't reveal this, but he is actually a very sane and helpful teacher. :-)

Terry said...

I have no doubt Eggleston is a intelligent and thoughtful person. I've read some of his comments on his approach to playing this kind of music.

In your lesson chop-accompaniment, did you maintain a chord shape with the left left? My hand gets awfully tired and it becomes difficult to stay in tune after a while clamping down 3 to 4 strings for long periods.

Maricello said...

Hi Terry,
Rushad did demonstrate the chord shape with the left hand, but, as I recall, it was on two strings, not 3 or 4. This was in the group class, and there was a lot of variety in ability among the students, so instruction jumped around a bit.

In my personal lesson, we used simpler chords, and he called them out.

Maricello said...

Forgot to say--few people have the energy that Rushad has to sustain this type of playing in the manner that he does!