Alasdair Fraser is one of Scotland's most influential tradition-rooted fiddlers. After emigrating to California in the 1980s, he became a two-time winner of the open competition of the Scottish National Fiddle Championship, and has since spent his career studying and expanding the musical traditions of his homeland through various performances, solo albums, and highly regarded collaborations with longtime pianist Paul Machlis and his band Skydance, among others.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Fraser and American cellist Natalie Haas formed a musical partnership that yielded critically acclaimed albums like 2004's Scots Trad Award-winning Fire and Grace, 2011's Highlander's Farewell, and 2017's Ports of Call. In addition to founding successful fiddle camps in California and Scotland, appearing countless times on BBC radio and television shows (and, in the U.S., on A Prairie Home Companion), Fraser has been featured on the soundtracks of such films as Titanic, Braveheart, and The Last of the Mohicans.
Born in the town of Clackmannan, Scotland, Fraser began playing fiddle at the age of eight, learning classical violin methods at school and traditional fiddle tunes at home on his grandfather's old fiddle. By his teenage years, he was playing in local dance bands and had become increasingly interested in the fiddle music of Scotland, setting off a lifetime devotion to learning and preserving the music of his native heritage. In the early '80s, his day job as a petrophysicist for British Petroleum brought him to the U.S. and he settled down in California. Still deeply involved in music and enamored of some of the American traditions he was learning, he quit his job and became a full-time musician, releasing his debut album, Portrait of a Scottish Fiddler, in 1984. That same year he established a fiddle camp in the California Redwoods called Valley of the Moon, which he would continue to direct for the next three decades. Fraser continued to record throughout the '80s, releasing two albums with pianist Paul Machlis and one with multi-instrumentalist Jody Stecher, all the while increasing his repertoire and building his reputation as a master of his craft.
Fraser's 1996 album, Dawn Dance, which represented his first all-original recording, received a NAIRD award as best Celtic album of the year. The album's success inspired him to form a band, Skyedance, with musicians featured on the album including long-time collaborator Paul Machlis on piano. Fraser and Skyedance released their first album as a band, Way Out to Hope Street, in 1997. The album included 13 group-composed instrumentals and a reworking of a medley of traditional dance tunes that Fraser and Machlis recorded in 1986. In addition to his partnership with Machlis, he has also worked regularly with guitarist Tony McManus and, beginning in 2003, formed a very successful duo with cellist Natalie Haas that has yielded several highly regarded albums. The duo's first album, Fire and Grace, earned them an Album of the Year award at the Scots Trad Music Awards. In addition to his own collaborative partnerships, Fraser has played with the Waterboys, the Chieftains, and Itzhak Perlman, among others. Along the way, he founded a second summer fiddle program in California called Sierra Fiddle Camp, and a longstanding fiddle camp on Isle of Skye in his native Scotland. His work with Haas has extended into the 2010s with releases like Highlander's Farewell (2011), Abundance (2014), and Ports of Call (2017), all of which were released via his own Culburnie Records imprint. ~ Timothy Monger & Craig Harris, Rovi