Paly student preserves tradition of bluegrass

Rock and hip-hop have diffused throughout the Bay Area, rendering original American folk and country music anachronistic to many Palo Alto teenagers. Donning a modest white hat, focused on her relentlessly moving fingers on the tough steel strings, and seemingly undaunted by large crowds, Molly Tuttle defies these unspoken social norms and immerses herself in different areas of music.

Molly Tuttle, a 14-year-old freshman at Paly, has been preserving the underappreciated tradition of performing bluegrass music for six years. Bluegrass music has its roots in Irish, Scottish and English traditional music and relies on acoustic instrumentation.

Tuttle has performed with the School of Bluegrass, which includes professional bluegrass musicians such as Angelica Grim, Victor Skidanenko, AJ Riger Lee, and her father Jack Tuttle, major gigs hosted by the International Bluegrass Music Association in Nashville, Kentucky. She has been invited twice to play with an all-star kids lineup at International Bluegrass Music Association in Nashville, and has been a teaching assistant at the California Bluegrass Association’s Grass Valley Music Camp three times.

Bluegrass fans nationwide, through public web sites such as YouTube, and other professional columnists and podcasters, have evaluated and praised Tuttle’s performances and recordings.

In May of 2007, Tuttle has released “Molly & Jack Tuttle: The Old Apple Tree,” a joint CD which she recorded with her father, a performer and instructor. Molly’s father and mentor, Jack Tuttle, is heard accompanying her on the rhythm guitar.

“Molly, as the lead singer on most cuts, would come back and sing for keeps with my new guitar track,” Jack Tuttle said. “Now I had a song with vocals and guitar that was pretty much what we would end up with and I’d sing my harmony part to match Molly. This is where I’d learn exactly how she phrased and try to match it.”

Through persistent and meticulous observation, revision, and practice, the Tuttles successfully released their CD in May.

“It required a lot of hard work, and it took a long time,” Molly Tuttle said.

The album is named after the title song, “The Old Apple Tree.” Numerous people, including professional music columnists, have praised the young artist for her vocals and her mastery of the banjo and the guitar.

“For a barely-14-year-old girl from the San Francisco Bay area, Molly sings as though she grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains 150 years ago,” commented Dennis Brunnenmeyer of KVMR radio, Grass Valley. “This is her first CD release, recorded with her father and coach, Jack Tuttle, a well-known multi-instrumentalist and performer, author and music teacher. With her crystal-clear voice, crisp falsettos and her apparently instinctive interpretations, The Old Apple Tree is bound to be just the first of many CDs to come. Keep an eye and both ears trained on Molly Tuttle. This is one young woman you don’t want to overlook.”

After releasing her CD, she has traveled with her father to Grass Valley and the Redwood Bluegrass Associates concert in Mountain View to promote her new CD.

Tuttle attributes her fascination with bluegrass to her family’s interest in music. Her father, Jack Tuttle, is a professional performer and instructor in the mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass, while her two brothers, Sullivan and Michael Tuttle, play the guitar and mandolin, respectively.

“I wanted to play bluegrass because it has been in my family for a long time,” she said.

After receiving instruction from her father, Jack Tuttle, a bluegrass instructor, and mastering both the guitar the banjo, she aspired to purchase a guitar to further her musical career. Through persistent small jobs and performances, she raised enough money to buy a Martin HD-28 Adirondack spruce top guitar.

“I raised the money for the guitar by playing at local farmers markets and on the streets of downtown Palo Alto,” said Tuttle on her introductory website.

“I also raised money by typing up about 100 pages of my dad’s Banjo book. It was mind numbing work, but it was well worth it.”

An inspired and young musician, Tuttle looks up to many other bluegrass bands and artists, such as Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass, King Wilkie, Del Coury, and Hazel Dickens, whom she has met.

Music and performing locally and nationally have profoundly influenced Tuttle’s life.

“I play music when I go home every night,” Tuttle said. “It’s a great chance to see people that you normally don’t see.”