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Fiddler Andrea Zonn steps out front

By Rick Teverbaugh, June 2003

There are too many similarities to ignore. Both Alison Krauss and Andrea Zonn started young with fiddles in their hand. Both became respected studio musicians. Now both are solo artists.

Zonn has emerged from the studio and the shadow of Vince Gill's touring band to release her own solo effort, "Love Goes On" for Compass Records in May.

Zonn actually came from classical violin training, a study she started at age 5.

"I started fiddling at age 10 when I was frustrated with the violin repertoire I was technically limited to," says Zonn in a telephone interview from the Nashville area. "It comes from a whole different part of your brain. In classical, you're given every note. The freedom comes from the interpretation and dynamics you bring to the piece."

Her father, Paul Martin Zonn, chaired in Music Theory and Composition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But he also played jazz clarinet and piano, so he understood her desire to have another form of musical expression.

"He had a lot of musical languages he liked to say," says Zonn.

Her mother is a world-class oboist and pianist, and her brother a bassist. "To them, classical music was never an exclusion to other music. To them, it just gave me more reason to love music."

After finishing high school, Zonn went to the University of Illinois for two years. But she moved to Nashville after deciding to transfer to Vanderbilt University in 1986.

During the time she switched schools, she decided she wanted to pursue commercial music as well as classical music. At that point, she fell into the studio scene and established her reputation there.

In 1990, she was hired by Gill for his touring band and joined him in the studio as well. She continues that role today. "I'll play in his band as long as he'll have me," she says.

But why exactly is a background spot in his band such a great gig? "First of all, the goods are there," says Zonn. "His singing is right on. He's a great guitar player. He's been a sideman, so he knows what this gig is all about. We get such an opportunity to shine in his band."

That shining includes singing and playing. But it also includes some other opportunities. "When we're on tour, we're all about laughing and eating," she says. "We know that those two things will happen all the time - laughing and eating."

While Krauss wasted very little time in forging a solo career, Zonn has been a bit more cautious. "Alison jumped right in, and she's been tremendously successful," says Zonn. "I decided I would study it a little bit more. It's always been a goal of mine. I wanted to approach it with as much experience and wisdom as I could."

She dabbled a bit in some studio production work before tackling the solo album.

Zonn isn't a writer, so one of her first tasks before embarking on the studio project was finding suitable materials. "It was all about finding songs that shared my vision," says Zonn, who steps out front to sing as well on the disc. "It has been fun finding songs. I wanted to find what resonates for me - what I would say if I were a writer. I spent about a year-and-a-half with these songs. The hardest part was narrowing it down."

One thing that turned out not to be hard at all was finding guests willing to spend time helping her in this project. Gill and Krauss quickly came on board, followed by Amy Grant, Tim O'Brien, Jerry Douglas, Alison Brown and Darrell Scott.

"I ended up getting to work with some of my very favorite people," says Zonn. "I knew what they would come to the table with. It's an incredible feeling to be fulfilling your own vision and not someone else's."

Now she is venturing into unchartered waters. She will soon need to balance her work with Gill against efforts to become established as a solo entertainer and hitting the road on her own.

Her husband, John Gardner, will likely be part of that effort, once he's done touring as the drummer with the Dixie Chicks

"I've toured doing as many as 300 dates a year with Vince," she says. "When I was 20, that was OK. Now in my mid-30s, it's time to scale down my schedule. I'm on tour with him through the summer, but in the fall I'm going to try to get out on my own."

"I'm looking forward to moving in that direction," says Zonn.