“The guys I’ve got playing with me can really play anything, from jazz to bluegrass to pop,” mandolinist Jacob Jolliff says of his band. “We mix it up pretty good.”
“The Jacob Jolliff Band is still definitely a bluegrass band,” he adds.
Bluegrass and roots music fans know Jacob – who answers to “Jake” – as the mandolin player in Yonder Mountain String Band, or as a former member of Joy Kills Sorrow.
Already an accomplished player at age 30, the Oregon-raised, Berklee College of Music graduate, who now resides in Brooklyn looks forward to bringing his own band to Daniels Hall at Swallow Hill Music on Saturday, June 15.
“I’m really excited to play in Denver with my group,” Jake says. “I’ve never played in town with the Jacob Jolliff Band, pretty excited to see how the Colorado fans react to it.”
Jake takes care of the mandolin and vocals, joining him in the band are Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, Stash Wyslouch on guitar, and Jeff Picker on bass.
When describing the band, Jake discusses the wide-range of music fans will hear at the show.
“Some of what we do is more traditional, we do some Bill Monroe tunes and a few standard type of things, and the feel is very bluegrassy.”
“But then,” he continues, “we have some really progressive instrumental type stuff as well, very much in the vein of David Grisman, Béla Fleck, Chris Thile, and people like that.”
The fluidity of styles contained within his own band reflect the greater bluegrass landscape at large. When asked about the regional differences of bluegrass communities, Jake gives an insightful but perhaps counterintuitive answer.
“I would say it’s hard to point to real concrete (regional) differences, it’s pretty vague,” he says.
For instance, “there are some really out there, experimental musicians in bluegrass down in Nashville, where you think of it as being really trad. At the same time there are some really super-trad bluegrass musicians up in New York, or out in Colorado.”
At the mention of Colorado he adds “there’s certainly a lot of the jam band or Grateful Dead-influenced bluegrass bands out in Colorado, I think that goes without saying, definitely more than anywhere else in the country than I know of.”
“In New York there’s a really cool scene of young bluegrass musicians that also have a fair amount of experience playing jazz, and other styles, classical and stuff like that.”
Being Brooklyn-based, Jake knows this scene intimately. “I feel like I’m part of a scene in New York where a lot of us are bluegrass musicians who play other styles.”
All told, he encounters a variety and depth in bluegrass musicianship wherever he lands. “You can find really progressive musicians anywhere, and really traditional musicians anywhere.”
While he listens to a wide variety of music, he currently listens to a lot of jazz, with John Coltrane and contemporary guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel immediately coming to mind.
Jake also keeps his ears on younger and up-and-coming pickers. And he hopes they are listening to him as well.
“I’m certainly happy to help out any young players,” he says, but hastens to add, “the focus is definitely still on trying to do something meaningful musically so that people will even want you as a mentor.”
He cannot overstate that final point – if he is creating exciting and vital music, then young pickers will seek him out.
“I do teach lessons and I have a few younger mandolinists that have studied with me here and there that have gone on already to be really fantastic players.”
“It’s flattering when a young, hot picker wants to pick your brain about something, or even just comes to your show.”
Jake also continues to turn his keen ear on himself as he hones his own sound and explores the possibilities of his instrument. He balks at the notion of being as established mandolin player.
“I’m just a mandolin player at this point,” he says. “I’ve definitely noticed the type of player I am changing. I don’t know how established (I am), but trying to do something unique on the mandolin.”
When he considers what he hopes to accomplish he thinks about his influences. “There have obviously been a lot of amazing players before me who’ve already uncovered a lot of stuff, you know with David Grisman, Chris Thile, Ronnie McCoury, Sam Bush.”
“I’m definitely still studying the mandolin and studying people like that,” he says, “and other styles of music.”
Experience that creative restlessness firsthand in Daniels Hall on June 15.