IBMA Keynote: Matt Glaser puts new spin On American music styles

Matt Glaser delivers the Keynote Address at the 2023 World of Bluegrass – photo © Frank Baker

Matt Glaser, artistic director of the Americans Roots Music Program at the Berklee College of Music, is a man on a mission.

He shared his concept with attendees at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass during Tuesday’s keynote address. “I’m on a mission to envision music as one thing,” he said.

There were, no doubt, skeptics. After all, there are so many music styles to cram under one umbrella – including but not limited to jazz, bluegrass, blues, gospel, and Tin Pan Alley.

But he quickly converted the masses through a tour de force of the American songbook, pointing out case after startling case of overlapping repertoire and rhythmic and melodic similarities that obliterates musical boundaries.

Take Rocky Blues Blues, a standard from the blues canon that became a standard for Bill Monroe and has been grassed up by dozens of bands in subsequent years. That was just one of dozens of examples he played in support of his thesis. And, goaded by his examples, audience members started adding their own examples.

(Of course, the path led both ways. Bill Monroe’s Blue Moon of Kentucky, moved from bluegrass to rockabilly and wide airplay thanks to Elvis Presley, then made a return trip to bluegrass that switched from Monroe’s waltz time approach to Presley’s 4-4 time signature.)

“The interweaving never stops,” Glaser said.

It occurred to me that Glaser will get more support for his one-music idea from the renewed interest in bluegrass these days, thanks in part to auditorium-filling performances by Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, and others.

Judging from comments by a variety of folks who herd his presentation, Glaser made many new friends in his short talk. But do yourself a favor and don’t just take my word for it. Check out IBMA’s video of his address, complete with the music he used to make his point.

I’m betting many of those who do take the time to watch will end up being fans of Glaser’s mission.

It’s music. American music. And if it’s good, that’s all that matters.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.