By Bethany Carlson
Alex Hargreaves was given his first violin at age three. Twelve years later, the 15-year-old Corvallis native was the youngest-ever winner of the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest. Now, after releasing an album and studying at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Hargreaves will perform as a member of the Grammy-nominated Sarah Jarosz Trio on Thursday, May 8 at Corvallis High School.
Sarah Jarosz describes her group’s music as a blend of Americana and folk. She says, “A lot of my musical sensibilities stemmed from my childhood growing up in the hill country of Texas—that rootsy, raw sound.” Jarosz met her bandmates Hargreaves and Nathaniel Smith when she was 14 and 15, respectively, at music camps around the country. “Initially music for the three of us was just playing for fun.” Now that the group has been together for four years she says, “It’s been a really great thing because of that history we have, having met each other so young.” Hargreaves agrees: “It’s been a great experience. I’ve been with these guys for so long and as a result we’ve developed a really natural and intuitive way of playing together.”
Jarosz, who signed her first record deal at age 16, says that despite her young age, being in the industry “always felt really natural. I feel lucky to be with people I trusted from early on.”
Hargreaves took classes at CHS but was mainly schooled at home to provide flexibility for touring around the country. He says, “I think Corvallis is a great community to grow up in if you’re interested in any type of art or music. There are a lot of great private teachers around and also the youth orchestra program is probably one of the best in the country. Penelope Wolff and Jessica Lambert were my two main classical teachers in Corvallis and I learned a lot from them.”
He continues, “To suddenly go to these festivals and camps and meet people my own age who were into the same kinds of music was really inspiring to me.”
The artistic director of Berklee College of Music, Matt Glaser, describes Hargreaves as “The best young jazz violinist in America.” Hargreaves takes the comment in stride, though he says he doesn’t think of himself as strictly a jazz violinist. “It’s a huge compliment and it really means a lot for Matt to have said that. When I think about it I get overwhelmed—it’s a lot of responsibility.”
Hargreaves, who composed half of the songs on his album Prelude, says that while he’s influenced by other musicians, “in the actual process of writing I’m not thinking of ‘what would so-and-so do,’ I’m more just trying to write a melody that I’d like to hear.”
Despite the group’s critical acclaim and international tours, they haven’t forgotten their laid-back roots. Hargreaves says, “When you spend that much time with someone on tour it just kind of feels like family. In that sense it makes the music feel really natural and really enjoyable. Whenever we get a chance we try to jam and play for fun on the road, too. When you’re playing the same songs every night it always keeps it fresh to just play for fun.”
The Sarah Jarosz Trio will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 8 at the Corvallis High School Theatre. Tickets are available at Grass Roots Bookstore and online at https://schools.csd509j.net/theaters, and range from $15 to $22.