Sarah Jarosz’s String Garden
Just when things are lookin’ down/And everybody’s wearing frowns/The king went and misplaced his crown/But it’ll come around, sings Sarah Jarosz on “Come Around,” from her second Sugar Hill album, Follow Me Down. Not yet legally old enough to drink, Jarosz, who is gaining a following in Americana and modern bluegrass circles alike, shows an uncommon, perhaps Dylan-like maturity in her songwriting. But someone hearing Jarosz sing for the first time might not be immediately aware of her instrumental prowess on just about anything with strings, an ability that has long been known to many in her native Texas.
Jarosz is the kind of multi-instrumentalist who only gets better with time. A mandolinist since grade school, Jarosz also plays octave mandolin, guitars and clawhammer banjo as well as keyboards (her first instrument) on her albums, and has been known to play upright bass or pick up a fiddle, though she will claim neither as a serious pursuit. The fact that she’s accompanied on her albums by such legends of the progressive bluegrass and Americana communities as banjoist Bela Fleck and resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas speaks of the respect and support she has garnered.
“Those are all ‘pinch me’ moments when people like them come in (to the studio),” she says, “that such amazing people have been my mentors over the years and are so generous with their time. But the coolest thing has been the open, encouraging feeling that is part of this whole music community, that they all treat you like you’re just one of the gang.”
Even though Jarosz has all the makings of a successful career with a recording contract and plenty of bookings, she’s taking things a step further, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston. “It’s been great for me to go to school,” she says, “to push me out of my comfort zone musically, and to just get the college experience in general.”
She isn’t working much on her third album at the moment, but Jarosz tours frequently in her own trio, which includes fiddle player Alex Hargreaves and cellist Nathaniel Smith, the three carrying on the traditions of acoustic music for the next generation. Jarosz also has performed with bassist Sam Grisman, son of “dawg music” icon David Grisman. And as she makes her name as a songwriter, Jarosz also recognizes the greatness of writers of several genres and generations, covering Dylan, Tom Waits, Radiohead and others on her albums and in concert.
Jarosz says she’s deeply grateful for the support she’s gotten from so many of the people she grew up listening to. “People like Tim O’Brien or Bela or Chris Thile, they’ve all been so encouraging and supportive of what I’m trying to do with my music and it means the world to me,” she says. “Anytime I’m fortunate enough to spend a little bit of time with any of those people it just makes me want to get that much better.”