Alex de Grassi's Biography
Linda Kohanov [allmusic.com]
Music has long been a family affair for Alex de Grassi. Though he's primarily self-taught as a guitarist, his grandfather played violin with the San Francisco Symphony and his father was a classical pianist. Even more significant are de Grassi's ties to one of contemporary instrumental music's most influential labels, Windham Hill. In addition to his status as one of the company's finest and most consistently intriguing artists, de Grassi is literally a member of the Windham Hill clan. After earning a degree in urban geography from U.C. Berkeley and performing as a street musician in London, he made ends meet by learning the carpentry trade from his cousin Will Ackerman, who was just starting a small instrumental record label. De Grassi was encouraged to record his first album, Turning: Turning Back, for the fledgling Windham Hill company. As it turns out, he had more going for him than good connections. Over the years, de Grassi has proven to be an innovative guitarist and composer whose mastery of acoustic finger-picking styles has grown to include a variety of other techniques and ethnic influences. Though he left briefly to record with RCA Novus, de Grassi has since returned to the Windham Hill fold. In the mid-'80s, his travels to Bolivia became a major inspiration. He made numerous field recordings during his visits and first incorporated indigenous influences from the culture on his 1987 RCA Novus release Altiplano. His contacts with Bolivia's Contemporary Orchestra of Native Instruments also set in motion the ensemble's first American release, Arawl, on the New Albion label. De Grassi continued experimenting with different genres and sounds that included guitar lullabies (1996's Beyond the Night Sky), his 1999 album of James Taylor interpretations, and 2000's collaboration with world music artist Quique Cruz, Tata Monk. Moving back to solo guitar work, his exploration of American folk music can be heard on 2003's Now and Then: Folk Songs for the 21st Century.