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The masterful skills of Edgar Meyer — whether as bassist or composer; in bluegrass, classical or a mix of genres — earned him a McArthur Genius Grant in 2002, but that is not the only accomplishment of this remarkable musician.
Meyer always credits his father, a high school string music director, as his first teacher, and picked up his first real bass — which had previously served as a flower planter — at the age of five. He would go on to study at Indiana University and the Aspen Music School with Stuart Stankey and James Buswell. It was Stankey, he says, that showed him how to make the double bass his own. And it was in Aspen where Meyer connected with Béla Fleck. (Meyer also met his wife in the Aspen School's orchestra.)
Fleck introduced Meyer to dobroist Jerry Douglas and violinist Mark O'Connor. After assisting Meyer on his first four albums, all four of them plus mandolinist Sam Bush became the group Strength in Numbers, generally classified as a bluegrass group, but going beyond that sound. That willingness to explore and create new and distinctive styles, as well as his musicianship, is what has always drawn other musicians and audiences to Meyer's music. During the 1980s, artists such as Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, the Indigo Girls, the Chieftains, Elton John, and others sought out Meyer for their albums. At the same time, Meyer became recognized among traditional Classical circles as a rare virtuoso of the small and ignored double bass repertoire, and earned an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1994.
Meyer's own music is an organic combination of written and improvised sections, fusing folk and jazz and classical styles into something new. Professional collaborations bring out the best of his work, with album after album garnering critical praise. Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey, his two albums with with O'Connor and Yo-Yo Ma, topped charts and best-of lists. Appalachian Journey won a Grammy award, and the three artists appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. In 2011 Ma and Meyer joined with mandolinist Chris Thile (another MacArthur genius) for The Goat Rodeo Sessions. Meyer and Thile have also released two successful duet albums (2008 and 2014) and toured together, which is something Meyer often does when he finds a winning combination of colleagues. Meyer worked with Fleck and Zakir Hussain to write a triple concerto and other pieces for double bass, banjo, and tabla; and with Joshua Bell for Meyer's Concerto for double bass and violin. His concerto for violinist Hilary Hahn is a rare work written for a single instrument and not the bass. Others Meyer has worked with include Mike Marshall and Emanuel Ax. Meyer still does solo recitals, with his longtime pianist Amy Dorfman, in programs featuring classical works alongside his own music, and he continues his relationship with Aspen, returning each year to mentor new students himself.