John Reischman is one of the premier mandolinists of his generation, a master instrumentalist capable of swinging between re-inventions of traditional old-time tunes, deconstructions of the bluegrass repertoire, and compelling original tunes, many of which have become standards. He’s also a powerful bandleader, touring all over Canada and the United States with his band the Jaybirds. But most of all, he’s an understated visionary, the kind of master craftsman whose music is virtuosic without ever being flashy and who is renowned for his impeccable taste and tone. John Reischman embodies the true spirit of acoustic music in the 21st century.
A Juno–nominated and Grammy–award winning artist, John is known today for his work with the Jaybirds as well as his acclaimed solo albums, but he got his start as an original member of the Tony Rice Unit in the late 1970s. With this band led by the legendary bluegrass guitarist, John helped define the “new acoustic music” movement in bluegrass with a series of high-profile albums for Rounder Records. Building this sound, John was influenced early on by Bill Monroe’s mandolin playing, but also by the playing of progressive bluegrass mandolinists like Sam Bush and David Grisman, as well as jazz mandolinist Jethro Burns. Living in the Bay Area in the ’80s, John toured and performed with the seminal California bluegrass band the Good Ol’ Persons, cementing his reputation as a powerful mandolinist with an original vision for the instrument.
John moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the 1990s and formed the Jaybirds, but he never stopped his musical explorations. In 1996, he won a Grammy as part of Todd Phillips’ all-star tribute album to Bill Monroe. Over the years, he’s collaborated with a remarkably wide range of artists, from bluegrass singer Kathy Kallick to guitarist Scott Nygaard, banjo wiz Tony Furtado, Chinese Music ensemble Red Chamber, Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Celso Machado, singer songwriter Susan Crowe, and more. This kind of cross-cultural trailblazing has always been at the center of John’s music, an extension of his curiosity about the stringed instruments and musical rhythms of other traditions.
John’s relocation to Vancouver in the 1990s led to his next big step as an artist: becoming a bandleader. Drawing from the very best bluegrass and acoustic musicians in the Pacific Northwest to form the band, Reischman led the Jaybirds on cross-country tours, five albums, and two Juno nominations. The secret to the band’s success lies in its innovative arrangements, powerful original songwriting and tune composition, as well as the mix of talents that make up the group. It’s a tight band that can turn on a dime and play with the kind of power and precision that is the hallmark of the original bluegrass greats.
In 2013, John released his third solo album, Walk Along John. Made up of traditional and original tunes, the album is a celebration of Reischman’s long career, featuring guest spots from old friends like old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky, banjo genius Tony Trischka, the Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile, bluegrass guitarist Kenny Smith, and members of the Jaybirds, plus friends from a new generation of bluegrass instrumentalists: guitarist Eli West, members of the Deadly Gentlemen, among others. Walk Along John follows in the footsteps of Reischman’s other acclaimed solo albums, like his debut, North of the Border, which was described by Bluegrass Unlimited as “monumental . . . it establishes a remarkably high standard for mature, tasteful mandolin music.”
In 2016, John teamed with guitarist Scott Nygaard and mandolinist/bassist Sharon Gilchrist to produce a recording of traditional tunes, The Harmonic Tone Revealers, about which Bluegrass Unlimited said: “The Harmonic Tone Revealers highlights three of today’s most accomplished and respected acoustic musicians. Filled with luxuriously gorgeous music and intriguing renditions of popular and obscure tunes, this CD can’t fail to please anyone who loves bluegrass and acoustic music.”