Catching up with Sarah Jarosz

We had the chance last week to catch up with Sarah Jarosz, just a few days after her debut appearance on Austin City Limits.

For this Texas teen and celebrated Sugar Hill artist, being a featured performer on one of America’s top tier TV venues was a childhood dream, but certainly not one she expected to realize during her 2nd year of college. And thanks to her busy touring schedule, it was a moment she almost missed when it aired on November 6.

“We had a gig in New Hampshire that night, and were afraid that we wouldn’t get to see it, but we made it back to the hotel in time for the last three songs.

It was so exciting – I am really thrilled and honored. I grew up watching the show, but had never even been to a taping until April when we recorded that episode.

I’ll never forget walking in… seeing the familiar set… it was an awesome moment.”

She was also very happy that she was able to watch the show with her current trio: Alex Hargreaves on fiddle and mandolin, and Nat Smith on cello – the ensemble that supported her on Austin City Limits.

Sarah adds banjo, guitar, mandolin and octave mandolin along with her supple voice. It’s an interesting sound, sparse and minimalistic – accented by Hargreaves’ fierce improvisational skills. Jarosz shared a bit about how she assembled this outfit…

“I had been playing with Alex for a long time, and had Sam Grisman on bass, but had been wanting to try out cello. Our first gig together was at Wintergrass earlier this year, and I remember that we had no time before our gig to fly Nat out to rehearse, so we just had some time before the show.

In that first rehearsal, everything just fell into place. We had to discuss a few things about the arrangements to make them work in a trio setting, but it really came together so quickly.

I was so glad that they were able to do that show with me.”

One of the songs featured on the show is My Muse, a new song of Sarah’s that is the A side of her new digital single, The New 45.

“I wrote that about a year ago, and had been playing it by myself for a long time. I knew that it would be on the next record, and when I started working on it with [producer] Gary Paczosa, I laid down the octave mandolin, and vocals, and started laying down other tracks (organ, electric guitar, toy piano).

The final track on the album will have more layered instruments on it than the single.

It’s a very personal song for me… a love song, for sure. The special thing is that it came very quickly and all at once. I play it a bunch, and I always love singing it.

For ACL I wanted to do something by myself, and that song really works well solo. Now we do it with a string arrangement – this past weekend was the debut!”

The other track on The New 45 is a remake of Bill Wither’s 1971 hit, Grandma’s Hands.

My dad played that for me many years ago, and I remember really loving it right off the bat. He is always showing me cool songs. I love picking out covers, and I thought that it would be fun to have it just on the single.”

Sarah says that she is managing her “double life” well, juggling the time constraints of a full course schedule at Boston’s New England Conservatory with a demanding schedule of live shows.

“It’s is definitely keeping me very busy these days. When I first got here, I was balancing school and gigs – and now I have added making a record!

I still hope to finish in four years – that’s my goal. As long as it is something that is inspiring to me – and it certainly is – I want to keep doing it.”

Her major is Contemporary Improvisation, an program that mixes traditional ear training and study of harmony with a personalized course of study.

Just imagine what this mega-talent will accomplish when she can focus 100% on writing and recording her own music.

You can watch the full episode video of Sarah Jarosz on Austin City Limits – also featuring Steve Martin with Steep Canyon Rangers – at the show’s web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.