Emory Lester is one of this day's foremost exponents of the acoustic mandolin. The power and attack of his mandolin playing are unmatched, and his sound is infectious. His 1993 recording "Pale Rider", and 1995 recording "The Emory Lester Set" has placed him among the elite mandolinists of our time. But there is more to this musician than first meets the ear. He has long been an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, and has performed with many jazz groups as a violinist, and with several new age ensembles playing a variety of instruments. His jazz playing retains the energy that is the trademark of his bluegrass playing, while his new age compositions show a lighter and more flowing style of his music.
Emory was born into a musical family in 1962, with his father, Jake Lester, performing around the northern Virginia area as a banjo and guitar player. Soon Emory and older brother, Dale, began to take up the interest, playing fiddle and bass, respectively. At age 6, Emory was on stage with his dad and brother, playing shows for local radio stations and schools in their immediate area.
Teenage years and high school saw the Lester brothers into the rock & roll arena, forming and maintaining several rock bands with local talent.
It was when he first heard the music of the Country Gentlemen in 1973, and more particularly the mandolin playing of Jimmy Gaudreau and Doyle Lawson, that Emory caught the bug to buy a mandolin. The next few years saw him back into bluegrass, playing mandolin in and around the state of Virginia, with several local bands. In 1977 he first heard the music of David Grisman, and Emory realized that there was more to the mandolin than just bluegrass. He formed a band in 1979, named "Hollywood", with banjo/mandolin player James Hann, guitarist Sheridan Minnick, and bassist Missy Raines, and the band performed a mixture of bluegrass and new acoustic jazz.
Emory's first solo mandolin album, "Jerusalem Ridge", was recorded in 1983, followed by "Mando-Motion" in 1985, a new acoustic effort with Emory playing all the instruments tracked one at a time, and writing all the material.
With a big move to Ontario Canada in 1988, Emory began a five-year musical journey that saw him win the Central Canadian Mandolin Player of the Year award four times, and perform bluegrass and new acoustic jazz throughout the entire country. "The Great Chase", Emory's third mandolin project, was recorded for Rodeo Records in 1991, with distribution across Canada, but limited availability in the U.S.
The early "90s also saw Emory forming his own new acoustic band, called "the Emory Lester Set", and become a working sideman to one of his new age influences, guitarist William Ellwood.
Moving back to Virginia in 1993, Emory produced his highly acclaimed recording "Pale Rider", featuring such sidemen as Tony Trischka, Ray Legere, and Slavek Hanzlik. A breakthrough project for Emory - it established him as one of the top new mandolin talents in the business.
On the new acoustic front, the 1995 release of "The Emory Lester Set", an all acoustic jazz project, with band members Marion Linton on violin, bassist Kene Hyatt and guitar player Allan Gorman, also received rave reviews, and showcased Emory's mandolin playing in a jazz setting, as well as his songwriting abilities.
In 1995, Emory joined up with local banjo legend Bill Emerson, and former Virginia Squires leader Mark Newton, and has been appearing with the "Emerson / Newton Band" for the past four years, playing shows all over the eastern U.S.
On the jazz side of his music, Emory has performed many shows with his long time friend - jazz guitar virtuoso Francois Vola, and his band, in and around central North Carolina, contributing his violin and mandolin playing to the group. The summer of 1997 saw Emory performing a series of jazz concerts in Martha's Vineyards alongside jazz guitar legend Babik Reinhardt - son of the great Django Reinhardt - and the Francois Vola Group.
In 1999, Emory joined the Gary Ferguson / Sally Love band, and has travelled across the U.S. doing performances, and produced their popular project entitled 'Our Old Home', receiving a lot of airplay with songs such as 'Take It Out Back'.
Emory, as well as members of the Emory Lester Set, still occasionally perform with Gary Ferguson, at bluegrass festivals and private concerts.
It was in 1998 that Emory met the highly creative banjoist Mark Johnson, known for his unique brand of clawhammer banjo music, called 'Clawgrass', which came from the title of his noted debut recording with the Rice Brothers. Since their meeting, Emory and Mark have found a new niche in their music, and a common respect and creative partnership that has resulted in many shows as a duet, across the U.S., and is documented in their debut recording entitled 'Acoustic Campaign'. Their friendship has only become stronger, and their creative music has matured into a exciting new sound, that is uniquely theirs. A new recording, due to be released in October of 2005, will be called 'Acoustic Rising', features some of Mark and Emory's best work to date, and is sure to continue making waves in the bluegrass and new acoustic communities.
In 2002, Emory and his wife Barb relocated from Virginia to Ontario Canada. Since that time, the Emory Lester Set was reformed, including mainstay members Marion Linton and Kene Hyatt, with the addition of the talented Marc Roy on guitar. They have been busy since 2003, doing festivals and concerts across Canada, from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island, as well as across the U.S.
When new acoustic guitarist Slavek Hanzlik teamed up with Ottawas' jazz vocalist sensation Tena Palmer, they called Emory, and these three artists have now formed a trio, that has been performing in the summer of 2005 across Ontario and Quebec, with plans for a new recording for early 2006.
In the past several years, Emory has been teaching his mandolin style at acclaimed music workshops such as the Steve Kaufman Acoustic Kamp in Maryville, Tennessee, and the British Columbia Bluegrass Workshops in Sorrento, British Columbia, Canada. He also offers and teaches private lessons to aspiring students, both in Ontario, and in other parts of Canada and the U.S. when he's travelling.