I wanted to write something about my client Butch Baldassari who passed away Saturday January 10, after a long illness. Butch was one of the finest musicians I ever met, a mandolin virtuoso. He took the instrument into all sorts of new territories from bluegrass to jazz to rock to classical music. More importantly, I was always impressed by his deep knowledge of the history of the instrument and its place in the development of American music and culture. He knew about the unpublished works of Bill Monroe, which he wanted to record before he died, as well as the history of mandolin orchestras in America. This knowledge led to his forming the groundbreaking Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, which showcased the breadth of the instrument from the turn of the last century through the works of Charles Mingus and The Beatles. In addition to the success of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble,, Butch also recorded “Evergreen-Mandolin Music for Christmas,” which has become a favorite in many people’s homes and I think ranks right up there with John Fahey’s Christmas albums.
Butch was also an incredibly cool and decent human being. I always thought he spoke more like a jazz guy than a bluegrass player. When I read his obituary in Sunday’s paper I learned that Butch had been a croupier in Las Vegas before becoming a professional musician and this made perfect sense. He is going to be missed.