The Many Sounds of Music

A special edition of "60 Minutes Presents" brings viewers three very different musical portraits

Good evening, I'm Bill Whitaker. Welcome to 60 Minutes Presents. The many sounds of music have been a part of 60 Minutes from the beginning. Tonight, we bring you three very different musical portraits. We'll go on the road with one of the hottest acts in country music, Blake Shelton. We'll travel back in time to visit Cremona, Italy, home of the world's finest violin craftsmen. But we begin with the Foo Fighters, one of the last great American rock bands that consistently sells millions of albums and fills stadiums around the world.

The band was created 20 years ago by its lead singer and guitarist Dave Grohl, but it's his latest project that got our attention. The band made a multi-part documentary and recorded a new album called Sonic Highways. It's a mix of music history, journalism, songwriting and old-fashioned rock and roll. And, as Anderson Cooper first reported last fall, it's unlike anything any rock band has ever attempted, and a reflection of everything Dave Grohl loves about making music.

Foo Fighters

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Dave Grohl CBS News
The following is a script of "Foo Fighters" which originally aired on Oct. 26, 2014. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. Keith Sharman, producer.

Foo Fighters is one of the last great American rock bands that consistently sell millions of albums and fill stadiums around the world. The band was created 20 years ago by its lead singer and guitarist Dave Grohl, but it's his latest project that really got our attention. The band has made a multi-part documentary and recorded a new album called "Sonic Highways." It's a mix of music history, journalism, songwriting and old-fashioned rock 'n' roll. It's unlike anything any rock band has ever attempted, and a reflection of everything Dave Grohl loves about making music.

Foo Fighters' sound is raw, real rock 'n' roll. No tricks. No gimmicks.

This was one of two sold out shows they played to 165,000 fans in London's Wembley Stadium in 2008, but Dave Grohl insists money has never been his motivation.

Dave Grohl: The reward of playing music should be playing music.

Anderson Cooper: But isn't that easy to say for someone who's, you know, incredibly successful?

Dave Grohl: It's really easy to say. But that's the way I felt before any of this happened. I wasn't doing it so that this would happen. I was doing it because I loved it.

Anderson Cooper: And you still love to play?

Dave Grohl: Oh, dude, yeah, a lot.

That love of playing is what Grohl believes should always be at the heart of music.

Dave Grohl: Don't worry about what everyone else thinks. Don't let someone say, like, "Sorry. You didn't win the song contest. Go home."

Anderson Cooper: But on "American Idol," the judges will say, "Well, look, are you doing somebody a favor by telling them, 'Keep going' at something they're not good at?"

Dave Grohl: Who's to say who's good or not? Imagine Bob Dylan standing there and singing "Blowin' in the Wind" in front of those judges. "Sorry, it's a little nasally and a little flat. Next."

Anderson Cooper: How would you do in "American Idol"?

Dave Grohl: Oh, I would never make it, ever, in a heartbeat. People need to appreciate their voice. I don't want to sing like someone else. I want to sing like me.

Grohl was singing his heart out when we met up with Foo Fighters in May in New Orleans. They'd taken over Preservation Hall, a legendary jazz performance space in the French Quarter. On a Saturday night the windows were opened up for the first time in more than 50 years so the band could play a surprise show for hundreds of stunned passersby.

The concert was being shot for an eight-part HBO documentary about the history of modern American music that Dave Grohl is directing. Each episode focuses on the unique musical heritage of one city. To help him learn that history Grohl interviewed local musicians everywhere the band went, among them Troy Andrews, better known as "Trombone Shorty."

[Dave Grohl: Where you from?]

[Trombone Shorty: From New Orleans, from here, Tremé neighborhood]

Dave Grohl: When I interview these people I get them to explain not only the history of the city but the influence that that has on the music that comes from here. There's a reason why Chicago blues sounds like Chicago blues. And there's a reason why jazz music is here, in New Orleans.

Anderson Cooper: And the reason is the history of how that music was formed.

Dave Grohl: It could be anything. In Seattle, it rains all the time, so people stay in their basements and write songs.

Grohl approached the project as a both a musician and a historian, and says he was often surprised about what he learned.

Dave Grohl: Well everybody knows Nashville as the country music capital of the world. But then I start to realize, wait a minute, all of the foundation of a lot of these musicians is in the church. Whether it's Dolly Parton or Carrie Underwood, like they started in the church. I never knew that.

Anderson Cooper: It seems like the subtext is the roots of music matter...

Dave Grohl: Oh, yeah.

Anderson Cooper: ...and are important for people to know.

Dave Grohl: I feel like I have the opportunity and the resource to give this to everyone. I can do it. So why wouldn't I do it?

What made the project so ambitious is that Grohl wasn't just shooting a documentary, he was also using the interviews to come up with material for a new song he'd write in each of the eight cities Foo Fighters spent a week in.

Anderson Cooper: The way you're writing songs for this album is completely different than...

Dave Grohl: Yeah.

Anderson Cooper: ...anything you've ever done. And, as far as I know, different than anyone's ever really done.

Dave Grohl: These are all things that people have talked about. New Orleans is a crossroad, the spirits on the square. Cyril Neville used to watch his family play music through like cracks on the door. He'd press his face against the screen. He'd go home with the imprint of the screen on his head.

Anderson Cooper: So these are all phrase you got out of interviewing various artists.

Dave Grohl: Yeah, words and phrases.

Grohl had just written the song an hour earlier. It wouldn't be released for six months, but he invited us to watch him record it.

It's called "In the Clear" and references the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina and the history of jazz.

None of the Foo Fighters knew much about jazz before coming to New Orleans, but that was the whole reason to make the trip.

On their last day in town, Grohl and the band joined a large crowd on St. Charles Avenue to take part in a local Sunday tradition, a musical jazz parade known as a "second line."

Dave Grohl: This is one of the best things about music. You know, this is real, and it's right now, and it's happening. The musical history of this country is deep, you know? And there's so much of it that I honestly feel like if music were more a part of our daily lives this country would be a better place.

A few months later, Grohl was back in Los Angeles along with bassist Nate Mendel, drummer Taylor Hawkins, and guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett in Studio 606, a recording facility they built. They showed us some of their new documentary series and told us how learning about the history of American music has changed the way they listen to it.

Chris Shiflett: It's just such a big soup, American music, you know, it's all connected. It's not like what we do is drastically different from what a country band would do. Or even maybe a New Orleans jazz band. It's all pretty similar.

Anderson Cooper: That's interesting.

Chris Shiflett: It's interconnected.

The first episode is about the history of punk rock and the blues in Chicago.

Dave Grohl: This is a good example of a moment in an interview that made its way into one of our songs.

The interview was with Buddy Guy, a guitarist and singer, who took a train north from Louisiana in 1957 and became a blues legend.

[Buddy Guy: Oh I'll put it like this: I was looking for a dime, and I found a quarter.]

Dave Grohl: Man when that came out of his mouth, when he said that, I just thought "I have to tell his story in this song."

And that is what Grohl has done. The song he wrote in Chicago is called "Something from Nothing."

Chicago isn't just important to American music, it's played a crucial role in Dave Grohl's own history. He grew up in Virginia, and when he was 13, on a family trip to Chicago, a cousin took him to his first concert, a local punk rock band called Naked Raygun. That night changed Grohl's life.

"Losing Kurt was just earth shattering, and I was afraid of music after he died."

Dave Grohl: My belly was up against the stage. And the singer was diving on my head. And it was so loud my teeth itched. You know.

Anderson: Your teeth itched?

Dave Grohl: There was spit and sweat. And that night, I just thought, I can do this.

Grohl taught himself to play guitar and drums and at 17, dropped out of high school to go on tour with a punk band. By 21, he was broke in Los Angeles with no way to get home. That's when he got a call about joining a Seattle band called Nirvana.

Nirvana's first album with Grohl as drummer knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the charts and changed pop music forever.

But less than three years later, Nirvana's lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain killed himself after struggling with drug addiction.

Dave Grohl: Losing Kurt was just earth shattering, and I was afraid of music after he died.

Anderson Cooper: You couldn't even listen to music?

Dave Grohl: No, man. I swear, if I heard a song that even touched on an emotion in me, I would turn it off. I was just so terrified. Because to me, that's what music always was. It was a direct connection to my heart.

It took him several months, but Grohl did start playing again, and went into a studio to record some of his own songs. He had no band, so he sang and played all the instruments himself.

Dave Grohl: I called it Foo Fighters because I didn't want people, I didn't want to put my name on it at first. I didn't want people to say, like, "Oh, that's the guy from Nirvana."

Anderson Cooper: How did you come up with the name, Foo Fighters? Do you like the name?

Dave Grohl: Had I imagined that it would last more than a month-and-a-half, I might've named it something else. It's the dumbest band name ever.Foo Fighters was a slang term that they used for UFO's in World War II.

Now 45, Grohl is not the drummer of Foo Fighters, but he is still considered one of the greatest of his generation. Nirvana was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and its likely one day Foo Fighters will be as well.

Grohl lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three young daughters. None of them seem to care their dad is a rock star, particularly when they just want to go swimming. He doesn't like to be away from home for more than two weeks at a time but has begun a new tour and is already planning another album.

Dave Grohl: This is all I do man.

Anderson Cooper: There's not other interests you have? This is it?

Dave Grohl: All I do is shuttle kids around in a minivan and then come down here and be in the Foo Fighters. That's it. And I'm not lying. That's true man.

Foo Fighters returned to each of the eight cities where they recorded "Sonic Highways," but Grohl fell in love with one city in particular.

Dave Grohl: That week we had in New Orleans totally changed my life.

Anderson Cooper: How so?

Dave Grohl: It made me fall head over heels in love with music all over again.

One of his favorite memories from that week in New Orleans was when Foo Fighters gave that surprise show in the French quarter. After playing on their own, they were joined by the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Trombone Shorty showed up late and had to borrow an old horn, but the sound was pure New Orleans.

Rock drummer Taylor Hawkins had help from jazz drummer Joe Lastie Jr., who comes from a long line of local musicians and told us he always dreamed of being a rock star.

His wish came true that night.

Grohl called it a "musical gumbo," a beautiful blend of sounds and styles. A true celebration of what American music is all about.

Blake Shelton

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Blake Shelton CBS News
The following is a script of "Blake Shelton" which originally aired on Nov. 2, 2014. Norah O'Donnell is the correspondent. John Hamlin, producer.

Blake Shelton has one of the top country albums in America and a grin that won't go away. He's country music's most recognizable star and that's saying something, since 80 million Americans listen to country music every week. Songs about hook ups, pickup trucks and solo cups. And that's just fine with 38-year-old Shelton, who grew up in Oklahoma, wears jeans and alligator skin boots everyday -- and as Norah O'Donnell reported last fall -- he has enough personality to fill out his six-foot-five country boy frame.

Blake Shelton tells Norah O'Donnell that he d... 01:28

Norah O'Donnell: What is it about country that's so popular?

Blake Shelton: You know, it's not just our music, I think, that people feel like they can relate to. But it's us. It's the artists that they feel like they can relate to. I know for me when I go home, I hunt, and I fish, and I plant corn and I drive back roads. I literally do the things that I sing about.

Norah O'Donnell: What about the criticism that country music, a lot of it sounds the same?

Blake Shelton: Gosh dang, man, I hear about it all the time. You know, "It's the same subject matter over and over again," and, "All y'all sing about is, you know, pretty girls."

Norah O'Donnell: There's a lot of songs...

Blake Shelton: And...

Norah O'Donnell: ...about drinking too.

Blake Shelton: I like pretty girls.

Norah O'Donnell: And dr...

Blake Shelton: And I like drinking. And I like singing about it. So get over it. That's my take on it.

On tour in Little Rock last summer, Blake Shelton's point of view was on full display. His concerts across the country are filled with people who see things the way he does. Seats at Shelton's shows are usually holding more beers than behinds. His audience prefers stand-up-sing-alongs.

Norah O'Donnell: Here's one of my favorites from one of your biggest hits, "Boys 'Round Here": "Backwoods legit, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit."

Blake Shelton: You can't tell me that doesn't speak to your soul. And...

Norah O'Donnell: "Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit."

Blake Shelton: See, you almost tear up when you say that. It's because it's striking a nerve. It's just fun. I don't know how you let loose and just have fun if you're having to think too hard about it. And then when it's time to be serious, I have songs that'll take you down there. Some will take you too far down. It hurts for me to even listen to some of my own songs sometimes. But when I want to have fun and not think about it, I want to sing, you know, "Chew tobacco, spit."

Shelton comes by his country credentials naturally. He was raised in Ada, Oklahoma, a town of less than 20,000, an hour-and-a-half from the nearest big city.

Blake Shelton: So that was the drive through town.

Norah O'Donnell: That lasted two minutes.

His father sold cars here and his mom ran a beauty parlor. He started singing to the radio as early as he can remember.

Blake Shelton: Any time Mom walked by my bedroom, it was like, "What in the hell is he doing in there? It's loud," you know, "Turn it down."

Norah O'Donnell: And she had you performing at beauty pageants...

Blake Shelton: She knew she had a kid that she wanted to get on stage and she put me in the damn pageant and let me, "They have a talent part. He can sing in there," you know?

Norah O'Donnell: But wasn't it mostly girls?

Blake Shelton: Oh, God, yes. Mostly all girls. I mean, because what boy from Ada, Oklahoma would want to be in the Miss Valentine Pageant, right?

But there was a lesson he learned on stage at an early age that Shelton believes is central to his success.

Blake Shelton: I learned that it was more to it than just coming up here and singing a song and walking off. I knew I wasn't a good enough singer for that just to be the thing. You got to perform but you also got to entertain. You got to make people laugh. You got to tell a joke or a story. Make the most of the time that you're out here so that people remember you when you walk away.

Blake grew up the youngest of three Shelton children. Older sister, Endy, and brother, Richie, who Blake remembers looking up to for all the usual big brother reasons.

Blake Shelton: His bedroom was right across the hallway from mine when I was little. And he was listening to Hank Williams, Jr. or Waylon, Lynyrd Skynyrd or Bob Seeger. I just, whatever was popular really, Richie loved all music. And I would be sitting there going, "Man, that guy's my hero. That's the coolest guy. He's my big brother."

But the music stopped when Blake was just 14 years old. Richie Shelton was killed in a car accident.

Norah O'Donnell: How did you deal with the grief?

Blake Shelton: I don't know, you know? I remember picking up the phone to call him a week after he was dead, to tell him something. And it was like, you think about what I, you know, I was picking up the phone to call him, to tell him something I just saw on TV or, and it was like constantly a shock to me that he was dead. It was just...

Norah O'Donnell: You don't ever get over it?

Blake Shelton: No, that's what my dad told me, too. He said, "Look, you will never, ever get over this happening. You're just going to have to learn to get used to it." He was absolutely right.

He wrote about the loss, even acknowledging his dad's warning,

[Blake Shelton: They say I'll be OK but I'm not going to ever get over you...]

Blake Shelton's childhood wasn't easy. His parents were divorced and for a time, he lived with his dad in this apartment. They lived simply and very country.

Blake Shelton: I went fishing or hunting every day after school. And whatever I had ended up on that porch. We were bachelors. We had a lot of chicken chow mein.

Norah O'Donnell: Yeah. I bet.

Blake Shelton: In that house and deer chili.

Norah O'Donnell: Deer chili?

Blake Shelton: That...

Norah O'Donnell: Did you make the deer chili?

Blake Shelton: Oh God, yeah. All that dead stuff I dragged up on that porch, we ate it.

Two weeks after barely graduating from high school, Blake left for Nashville. Five years later, he had a record deal and in 2001, landed his first big hit.

But having staying power in Nashville is about as easy as making it in L.A. as an actor. And Shelton was known as much for his hairstyle as he was for his musical chops. But his career and his life changed in 2005 when he was asked to perform on this TV special with an up-and-coming singer from Texas named Miranda Lambert.

Miranda Lambert tells Norah O'Donnell what li... 01:45

Norah O'Donnell: A lot of people who were there say they saw you falling in love at that moment.

Blake Shelton: I guess so.

Norah O'Donnell: And when you look back at it, you think?

Blake Shelton: I mean, I guess so. It's hard to argue with what I'm looking at. I'm trying to play the guy card here like, 'By God, no' but I mean, that's pretty pathetic right there.

Norah O'Donnell: But you were married at the time.

Blake Shelton: I was married. That was easily the toughest thing that I've, you know, been through. I put my divorce up there with my brother's death and that was a tough, tough call to make.

Shelton eventually married Lambert.

And started to string together hit after hit.

And in 2011, was approached about a new music competition show called "The Voice." Turns out the boy with the "aw shucks I am from Ada, Oklahoma" personality was about to go Hollywood.

Blake Shelton: I have absolutely no problem with making an ass out of myself.

Actually, he's made a name for himself. When it started Shelton was probably the show's least known star, but today, he's known as the unpredictable judge with the quickest wit.

[Adam Levine: Can I talk?]

[Blake Shelton: Yeah, go ahead.]

[Adam Levine: Oh my god, Aw man, I...]

[Blake Shelton: Well that's a good point. And I'm glad that you took this opportunity.]

[Adam Levine: Why don't you hush up.]

[Blake Shelton: OK.]

And the deepest drink, usually vodka.

Norah O'Donnell: Showtime.

Blake Shelton: You ready?

Norah O'Donnell: I'm ready. Are you ready?

Blake Shelton: I better be.

Because of his TV schedule, Shelton performs less than other country stars, even though the demand for him is huge.

He hosts the Academy of Country Music Awards and holds a unique country music record: 13 consecutive number one singles, so far.

Norah O'Donnell: You don't write too many of your songs.

Blake Shelton: I don't. If I've written 200 songs in my life or 300 songs, I probably have 15 of those that I'm proud of. That I truly go, man, I did something there. And I can't imagine me convincing myself that I'm a better songwriter than some of these people in Nashville. I just want the song to be the best song it can possibly be.

His other priority is getting home as often as possible. When his TV shows or concerts wrap, he heads immediately to the nearest private airport.

Blake Shelton: I am leaving Hollywood. Thank you, God.

Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton explain why... 02:33

To get back home to Oklahoma, close to where he used to hunt and fish with his dad. He lives with his wife Miranda Lambert on a 1,200-acre ranch. They say it's their last private place and we weren't invited in. When we drove around town with Shelton he was proud to show us the shop where he gets his boots re-soled. And that he still knows his neighbors

[Blake Shelton: Tell Steve, Pattie, David, I say, "Hi."]

But no matter if we were in Oklahoma, L.A. or Manhattan, the country boy and the country star seemed to be the same person: polite, funny and completely comfortable in those cowboy boots.

The City of Music

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The following is a script from "The City of Music" which originally aired on Dec. 7, 2014. Bill Whitaker is the correspondent. Tom Anderson, producer.

And now from music that is decidedly 21st century to a story about exquisite sound that has existed for hundreds of years. The rich musical tradition was born in Italy -- not Florence, Venice, or Rome -- but in the small city of Cremona. It is home to one of mankind's most glorious and coveted creations: elegant, hand crafted, Stradivarius violins.

A violin’s soul? Living instruments? Talkin... 04:42

Cremona was home to the master himself, Antonio Stradivari, who carved stringed instruments out of raw wood, and as we reported in December, set the standard for a vibrant musical tradition that still flourishes today.

Time seems to stand still in the small Northern Italian city of Cremona. It's a quiet place, almost sleepy. It moves to the rhythms of pedals and pedestrians. But to understand the culture of Cremona you have to listen.

It's believed the violin was invented here. To an audience of school children in a Cremona concert hall, Ukrainian musician Anastasiya Petryshak plays a violin made 300 years ago by the most famous violin maker in history, Antonio Stradivari. He plied, many would say perfected, the craft of violin making in Cremona in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are tributes to him all over town. The city's Violin Museum pays homage to Stradivari and his magnificent creations.

[Paolo Bodini: And they are really our history.]

Paolo Bodini, a doctor, the former mayor of Cremona and a director of the museum, took us on a tour of what he calls the Treasure Box.

Bill Whitaker: So Paolo, these four, all by Stradivari?

Paolo Bodini: Yes, we're in the middle of the Stradivari world.

Bill Whitaker: You live with these all the time. Is it possible you have a favorite?

Paolo Bodini: I would say the 1715 that's my favorite as far as the sound.

Many of Stradivari's 1,100 instruments have decayed or disappeared over the years but a number that survived are in remarkable condition - and in great demand by musicians all over the world.

Cremona's creations have been exported worldwide. Here at a Strad-Fest in Los Angeles - an event almost as rare as the instruments: not one but several Stradivarius violins on stage together. These world class violinists played second fiddle to the old master.

Cremona has brought many of Stradivari's violins back home. There are older instruments from Cremona here too, some made by the Guarneri family - and this one, made in 1566 by the man credited with inventing the violin: Andrea Amati.

Bill Whitaker: Now, this could be played today and would still have that ...

Paolo Bodini: Yeah, this is ...

Bill Whitaker:...exquisite sound?

Paolo Bodini: Yeah. It has - this one is sort of a deep sound.

To nurture that sound, these delicate, old instruments must be handled, held, played every month or two.

Bill Whitaker: They're not just museum pieces--

Paolo Bodini: No. If you want to keep them in shape you have to play it-- quite-- I won't say quite often, but once in awhile. You know-- b-- they-- they need to u-- to vibrate-- to be kept alive.

And when these exquisite, valuable instruments are taken from their cases to be played by Anastasiya Petryshak they get armored-car type security. It's a measure of their timeless power and versatility. In Anastasiya's hands the 300-year-old Strad is just as adept playing a serene passage from Paganini as a gypsy melody by a Spanish composer.

Itzhak Perlman: I don't need something better because there isn't something better.

Itzhak Perlman, one of today's most celebrated violinists, plays only a Strad, though he has a more humble name for his - a fiddle.

Itzhak Perlman: This fiddle is so amazing, I don't have to worry about it.

Bill Whitaker: You call it the perfect violin?

Itzhak Perlman: Well, it's the violin of my dreams, you know. If you wanna play a pianissimo that is almost inaudible and yet it carries through a hall that seats 3,000 people, there's your Strad.

Bill Whitaker: So describe the sound produced by this Stradivarius.

Itzhak Perlman: I can actually see the sound in my head. I can actually see it. It-- it has silk-- God, it's so difficult to describe. But each sound is different so this one has that sparkle, there is a sparkle to the sound.

Bill Whitaker: Somebody said it's just the Cremona magic.

Itzhak Perlman: Could be. It could be the DNA of the city.

In almost any other Italian city a medieval piazza and cathedral this magnificent would be crawling with foreign tourists, but Cremona is off the beaten path. It doesn't draw many visitors. But don't mistake it for some charming music box time has forgotten. Cremona actually is a very international city, where the past and the present coexist quite harmoniously.

Thousands of violins still are made here every year. There seem to be more violin shops than espresso shops in Cremona - there are 150 of them. Stefano Conia came here from Hungary more than 40 years ago. Edgar Russ moved from Austria and makes violins, violas and violincellos. Mathijs Heyligers came from Holland. He says he and all the other violin makers were drawn by Cremona's history and tradition.

Bill Whitaker: Do you feel the old master when you're walking through these streets?

Mathijs Heyligers: Well, yes. It's a matter of realizing that the man who made all those incredible instruments that we are admiring every day and we're listening at in the concert halls were made by a man that actually walked on the street here, because these streets haven't changed. The houses have-- isn't changed.

Neither has the way Mathijs Heyligers and the other craftsmen make their violins. About the only thing that has changed in the past 500 years - workshops today have electric lights. The violin makers use compasses, hand saws, glue, no nails. The tools are simple, the craftsmanship precise.

Bill Whitaker: This is the way Stradivari did it?

Mathijs Heyligers: Yeah, 300 years ago, he was sitting in the same town, doing the same job.

Bill Whitaker: The same way.

Mathijs Heyligers: The same way, absolutely. I mean, no power tools, no-- no big-- technology, you know?

Bill Whitaker: How do you decide what piece of wood to use?

Mathijs Heyligers: Well, that is very much a matter of sound. You know, if you listen to this one, for instance, you can hear it.

Bill Whitaker: What are you listening for?

Mathijs Heyligers: That's the note this blade has, OK? Now it has a kind of clear resonance note. This violin is going to have a clear sound.

Bill Whitaker: Can I hear?

Mathijs Heyligers: It's kind of high, but it's-- it's clear in color, not so dark.

The violin makers of Cremona have used wood from the very same forests for hundreds of years - maple from Bosnia and red spruce from this one valley in the Italian Dolomites. It's said Stradivari first discovered the acoustic qualities of these woods. Now visitors show up every year to honor the trees, and Italy being Italy, there's a violinist to play a concert -- not for the spectators, for the trees.

Mathijs Heyligers: The material needs to be cut in the right place, but also the right way. We need to have the right moon and the right air humidity and the right wind when we cut the tree in the right season to make sure.

Bill Whitaker: Really.

Mathijs Heyligers: Absolutely.

Bill Whitaker: Is anyone today making violins as good as the old masters in Cremona?

Itzhak Perlman: I don't think so, but you know, I hope somebody proves me wrong, that will be great.

Bill Whitaker: Three hundred years we're talking about and people still want to have a Stradivarius. What is it?

Itzhak Perlman: What is it? There is nothing like a fine Italian sound.

Bill Whitaker: That's the magic?

Itzhak Perlman: Yeah.

There are only about 650 of Stradivari's creations still in existence. The old instruments from Cremona are so rare and beautiful they've ignited a kind of feeding frenzy.

Sotheby's has this very rare Stradivari viola up for sale and says it's worth $45 million. No takers yet...

But Stradivari violins have fetched as much as $16 million, snapped up by collectors and investors.

Bill Whitaker: Could you afford your--

Itzhak Perlman: No, no, no--

Bill Whitaker: --violin today?

Itzhak Perlman: --no, no, absolutely not.

Bill Whitaker: Would you ever sell your violin?

Itzhak Perlman: Right now--

Bill Whitaker: Your Strad?

Itzhak Perlman: --the way-- the way-- the way it feels?

Bill Whitaker: No?

Itzhak Perlman: I don't think so, no.

Musicians lucky enough to have an old Cremonese instrument, like to play them as often as possible. But being played decade after decade for centuries can be rough on old bodies and joints.

Bruce Carlson: I wish it could talk...

Bruce Carlson, born in Michigan, has been restoring violins in Cremona for 40 years. He has to take them apart to fix them.

Bruce Carlson: Once we're all the way around then we can slip the table off.

He did this to a Stradivarius that literally had fallen apart in a violinist's hands.

Bill Whitaker: What is that like to pry open a violin made by Stradivari? I'd be scared to death to try to open that thing?

Bruce Carlson: It may be something like a surgeon, you know, when he-- when he's operating. Can't think about-- too much about the human side of things as-- as to just getting on with the business and doing it.

Bruce Carlson learned his craft at this school in Cremona. Students from all over the world come here to learn to make violins in the way of the old masters. Chris Kurz dropped out of Penn State to study here. It took him a year to make his first instrument.

Bill Whitaker: What can you get in Cremona that you couldn't get say, if you studied at Penn State, or went to New York?

Chris Kurz: I mean, like, I can walk down the street and walk by three or four shops on my way to-- get a coffee. And the fact that I can bring my instrument along to any one of those people, and walk in and say, "Hey maestro, do you have a minute or two to look at what I'm doing?" And then they give me their input.

Bill Whitaker: It's the city of violins?

Chris Kurz: Yeah, yeah, it's like living, breathing right here in Cremona.

Living...breathing here on the stage of the city's grand old hall -- a 21st century chamber orchestra featuring a 300-year-old Stradivarius. It's a tradition, a sound, a gift from Cremona.