“Mark O’Connor,” a friend asked recently. “Isn’t he the fiddler?”
Well … yes. And no. Nothing against fiddlers, but O’Connor has risen so far above that humble-sounding, front-porch-evoking status that he merits his own category.
Violin-playing musical omnivore? His latest recordings include a symphony, two string quartets, a double violin concerto and a folk mass, all his own compositions. He has recorded with Yo-Yo Ma and the bassist Edgar Meyer, Wynton Marsalis, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Sharon Isbin, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, to name but a few.
O’Connor can play anything: country music, classical music, bluegrass/newgrass, ragtime, jazz standards, free improvisation, hoedowns, hornpipes, and Hot Club. The two-time Grammy winner is also a committed music educator, founder and director of his own String Camps (in Tennessee, California and New York) and the author of “The O’Connor Violin Method: A New American School of String Playing.”
He brings his Hot Swing project to town on Wednesday for two sets at the Dakota. Here are six reasons to think about going.
Superstar status. We’re not talking Michael Jackson or Madonna, but O’Connor is the man in many musical circles and arguably a musical genius. Check out his new YouTube channel (which, for some strange reason, does not include any Hot Swing clips).
Hot Club cred. O’Connor was mentored by the great violinist Stéphane Grappelli, co-creator with the great guitarist Django Reinhardt of the Gypsy jazz/Hot Club sound. (Connie Evingson explains Hot Club music here.) O’Connor was just 17 when he met Grappelli, who was auditioning musicians for an upcoming tour. O’Connor got the job and learned from Grappelli on the road.
Infrequent Twin Cities appearances. Unless I’m mistaken, O’Connor’s last time here was November 2007 at Orchestra Hall. Before then, February 2006, also at the Dakota, with his Hot Swing Trio and vocalist Roberta Gambarini. Catch him when you can.
The current tour. O’Connor has many projects going at once, including an enticing new trio with bassist John Patitucci and guitarist Julian Lage. He’s touring with Hot Swing as a dual tribute — to Grappelli, for the 102nd anniversary of his birth, and to Reinhardt, for the 100th anniversary of his. However, this is not a tribute band playing only repertory. They are also playing O’Connor originals.
The band. During the first part of the tour (which launched Jan. 16 at the Kennedy Center), Hot Swing was O’Connor, guitarists Frank Vignola and Julian Lage, bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, and vocalist Heather Masse (of the Wailin’ Jennys). Lage, a recent Grammy nominee, will not be coming to Minneapolis (too bad; he dazzled at his Dakota appearance last July), but guitarist Matt Munisteri will. Munisteri appeared with Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra in 2007 as part of the Northrop Jazz Season.
The music. Listener-friendly, romantic and fun. And, with O’Connor at the helm, it’s safe to say it will also be virtuosic and stratospheric. Hear an excerpt on his website. Scroll down to Files to Download, then click on “Play” above “Hot Swing Instrumental Excerpt.”
Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Dakota ($45-$25). Tickets online or call 612-332-JAZZ (5299).