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Andrew Bird, Happy Birthday! Six Other Musicians Who Redefine Music

Andrew Bird may not have set out to redefine modern music, but his eclectic fusion of jazz, rock, ragtime, and European folk morphs into a template that defies description. With his initial contributions to the zany Squirrel Nut Zippers, continuing with his own band Bowl of Fire, and with subsequent solo albums, Bird has employed violin, viola, guitar, glockenspiel, keyboards, clarinet, and whistling to structure a unique aural amalgam that's at once accessible and yet altogether unexpected.

Born July 11, 1973, Bird grew up listening to classical music while also absorbing the influences of English and Scottish folk and the sounds of such seminal jazz icons as Johnny Hodges, Lester Young, and Fats Waller. Early on, he distanced himself from indie rock, although he has increasingly integrated that sound into later recordings.

The Bird albums Noble Beast, Armchair Apocrypha, and The Mysterious Production of Eggs reaped critical acclaim and solidified Bird's reputation as an artist whose music could sometimes seem as tangled as his odd song titles might imply. When taking center stage, he plucks and bows his violin and viola to emulate a sound as rich and textured as a small symphony. What's more, one has to give due credit to anyone who opts to call a song "Nomenclature" and then actually find a word to rhyme with the title.

He's further revealed himself through contributions to a New York Times blog written by musicians called "Measure for Measure." Those interested will find his commentary a fascinating discourse on the evolution of some remarkable melodies.

Ultimately, it's unlikely that even Break It Yourself, Bird's latest opus, will expand his following beyond the critics' kudos. After all, he doesn't parlay mainstream melodies, even despite his skillful strokes. Still, Bird is a genuinely unique individual who earns our awe. This multi-instrumentalist has pursued an intriguing musical trajectory in his career. There is inherent beauty and a rarified ambiance that permeates with practically every note.

Here are half a dozen other artists who have made an indelible imprint by reinventing themselves and redefining modern music in the process.


Miles Davis
Davis is considered one of the most influential American jazz musicians of all time. He dabbled freely in bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, and modal jazz before setting his sites on a sound that eventually morphed into a the style now known as fusion. Artists like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and John McLaughlin, all of whom played in Miles' many all-star combos, owe their careers to his invention.

Suggested listening: Sketches of Spain, Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way

Joni Mitchell
Beginning her career as a fragile singer and songwriter in the heady days of late '60s hippiedom, Mitchell abandoned her incense, patchouli, and the Topanga Canyon crowd for jazzier realms and the sophisticated style of a contemplative chanteuse. An influential songwriter, her songs have been widely covered by others.

Suggested listening: Blue, Hejira, The Hissing of Summer Lawns

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Lee Zimmerman

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