Before I was even an adult, legally, I’d met and shook the hand of the finest musician that possibly the United States Of America has ever produced. I’ve got a lot to live up to, but probably it won’t be done musically – at least not so far as my accomplishments on the guitar or any other instrument go, but I’ll tell you true, life throws some knuckle-balls at you from time to time.
From the very beginning the life of Mark O’connor seemed to be about being a world class musician. I can’t possibly state how much I think that he has been totally a success should that have been his vision.
I met Mark at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas in the early 1990′s, and that place and festival is exactly where the legend of America’s finest musician truly first took shape in the eyes of the public. The festival that I went to was killer, and Mark O’Connor was the star of the entire festival. I never once saw Mark play guitar or mandolin – he was only performing on violin of fiddle, (whatever term you wish – same thing, the terms are more style specific than anything) – and for all it is worth, I saw the modern day Niccolò Paganini. Speaking of Nicolo Pags, the man who was denied burial in Italy by the Roman Catholic Church due to ….superstitions concerning the type of man Pags was, and whether or not he’d literally sold his soul to Mephistopheles for the amazing ability he had, in the technical sense, and compositional sense – when playing the violin – I don’t know of anyone save Mark O’Connor that compares, or can literally play the 24 Caprices for Solo Violin - they are just that complex, and technically demanding. It takes a life dedicated to the violin to accomplish performances of such musical masterworks.
Mark O’Connor – Guitar Virtuoso
Listen, I’m a guitar enthusiast, and so I’m forever most focused on the acoustic guitar. One should never think from this bit of info that I am any the less interested in hearing Miles Davis play the trumpet or John Coltrane play the saxophone – it doesn’t work like that, a true music lover loves music for what it is, and recognizes the talents of musicians that don’t play whatever said ear’s musical instrument of choice is. Mark O’Connor, at a young age, met and played the guitar owned by Tony Rice, and of course that guitar was once owned by Clarence White - basically, it is the single most famous acoustic guitar in the entire world. Tony Rice doesn’t let everyone play his guitar, but the legend has it that he was startled completely by how well the world class violinist or fiddler child prodigy could play the guitar. Mark O’Connor had won his first world championship fiddle contest at 13 years of age – when he was 16 he was recording world class guitar music, and could play the mandolin as well too. He recorded Pickin’ In The wind at sixteen years of age with David Grisman as his sideman on mandolin. At nineteen years of age Mark O’Connor was winning national mandolin contests – there isn’t a stringed instrument that he can’t play at the highest levels imaginable.
The list of accolades Mr. Mark O’Connor has accumulated is getting ridiculous – there are just so many, but when I say “ridiculous,” please note that I agree entirely with all his awards, and can think of a few others I’d like to see him receive. He is definitely my pick for Greatest American Musician Ever. Anyway, though he isn’t really a Country Music Musician, per se, he has been awarded Musician Of The Year by the Country Music Association six times; furthermore he has composed eight concertos, string quartets, string trios, choral works, solo unaccompanied works and a new Symphony (See Compositions) . He has worked and recorded with a wide variety of artists, such as Chet Atkins, James Taylor, Michelle Shocked, Alison Krauss, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Bela Fleck, Renée Fleming, Pinchas Zukerman, Stéphane Grappelli, Patty Loveless, The Dixie Dregs, John Hartford and Wynton Marsalis. Some of his more recent albums are or contain tributes to his musical mentors and inspirations, including but not limited to -Niccolò Paganini, Benny Thomasson, and Grappelli.
Having accomplished and recorded so much – Mark has turned his attention in recent years towards giving back, and he is still quite young for a prime musician, and through his efforts at instructing via the O’Connor Method we can expect many a fine protegee to come from America’s finest musical protegee.
A somewhat comprehensive list of recordings, compositions, and awards exists on Mark’s Wikipedia page – but having been a long time Nashville sessions man, I could almost believe that even Mark might not know or recall all of the recordings he’s been a part of through the years – but I’m sure he has records of it all. He also has a very active and fine Facebook page that I encourage everyone interested in his fine music in hitting the “like” button on – we occasionally get some pretty special stuff from his vast vault of musical recordings and performances – true musical treasures!
What I want to state here is my opinion, and that is that Mark O’Connor is the finest, most talented, and most highly skilled musician that North America has ever produced – but that is entirely my opinion as music and musical talent is largely subjective. I’d like to go on to say that the man’s absolute mastery of the violin is a large part of my opinion, and having heard him play the guitar and mandolin too – his talent becomes hard to comprehend, as he is the clear master of those instruments as well. I’d not say that Mark is exactly the best of the best on acoustic or electric guitar or mandolin – but again, these are pure opinions, and someone else might absolutely state the he is “the best” at any given instrument with the exact level of subjective opinion as I have here concerning Mark’s overall talent and genius. In any case – I love the man’s music, and I think that you will too should the diverse genres and instrumentation suite your tastes at all.
PURCHASE THE MUSIC OF MARK O’CONNOR ON AMAZON.COM!
A comprehensive look at the legendary Martin D 28 owned by Tony Rice – Included is a Video of Tony Rice playing that guitar, and Mark O’Connor is featured on Violin