It’s a soundscape unique in and to Nashville: the cascading fountain in the atrium of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, mingled with the floating country jazz guitar of David Andersen. He’s played here six days a week for a good while. Five thousand days, as of this week. He started more than 16 years ago.
“May 1, 2001. That’s right when they opened the building,” he said on Wednesday.
The Hall of Fame had just moved from its original home on Music Row to its ambitiously designed downtown space. And he talked himself into the steadiest of gigs.
“I was already pretty established as a jazz artist in town,” he said. “But I knew they would need a live musician to kind of be a filter - a lens between the public in the contemporary time and going back to history.”
Andersen’s own history includes growing up in Long Beach, California and a vibrant career on stage and in the studios in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s. He moved to Nashville, where he set himself up playing for five dollars a day at restaurants on Music Row, where a huge range of musical figures heard him. He remembered such varied luminaries as Ferlin Husky, Johnny Russell, k.d. lang and James Taylor. But it was a fellow guitar player, and personal hero, who gave him pivotal advice.
“Chet Atkins was the guy who said, ‘Gee David, when I hear you play with a group, you always sound great. You always fit right in. But when I hear you play alone, that’s you. You should really consider a career as a stand alone guitar player.’”
Even in a town with plenty of guitar chord strummers and lead players, it’s rare to find musicians who can play fully realized arrangements on guitar alone, but that’s what Andersen does. His vast catalog ranges from tin pan alley and American songbook standards to six decades of country hits, including contemporary pop country songs that catch his ear. Asked when he last added a new tune to his set, he says “yesterday.”
He plays solo but he’s never alone on the job. Andersen can play while carrying on a detailed conversation. And half his job is visiting with the people who stream through the doors of the Hall of fame.
Andersen says: “It’s been a great experience to watch as not only the museum has grown and prospered and become this world class institution. But also as Nashville has had its renaissance.”
Mayor Megan Barry affirmed in a proclamation on Wednesday that Anderson has earned his nickname Ambassador of Music City.