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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Irish & Jazz on the same banjo

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Tom Banjo - Posted - 01/23/2009:  00:44:02

After being inspired by the youtube clip of Eddy Davis in another thread, and want to learn Dixieland jazz on tenor. I've been playing at Irish sessions for a while using GDAE tuning, but I guess I need to use CGDA for jazz if I ever plan to play with others. I'm trying to figure out the best way to do both styles with one banjo.
I figured I could either use CGDA and capo at the 2nd fret and acclimate to playing Irish tunes down a string, or I could tune GDAE and capo at the 5th. Seems like the first option would be better, but I thought I'd ask here and find out what other players of both styles have done.
And no, a 2nd banjo is not an option right now (unfortunately!).

fergaloh - Posted - 01/23/2009:  03:52:37

Gerry O'Connor uses CGDA tuning and frequently capos up to the second fret. I used this tuning for a brief period and this was a good compromise for Irish although GDAE is still the handiest for irish.

Compass56 - Posted - 01/23/2009:  04:28:19

As a jazz musician, I've got to say that the importance of tunings (at least in jazz music) is highly overrated. Jazz is a language. The language of jazz is all about jazz timing, jazzing feeling, and jazz harmony. All of those things can be found in any tuning and on any instrument. I don't know anything about Irish music, but I would say that if that music requires a certain tuning, stay in that tuning. When you bring that tuning to jazz music, you'll be fine.

banjopocolypse - Posted - 01/23/2009:  09:48:02

yeah, if you can make the chords then who cares what tuning you use!

partyofone - Posted - 01/23/2009:  10:20:39

I agree that for jazz, the tuning shouldn't matter. Jazz guitar is usually played on a standard tuned guitar. I play a tenor banjo in guitar tuning. dgbe. For my style of playing on that instrument, ie. strumming while singing, it works. It's not "real" tenor banjo playing, but who cares.


If we weren''t all crazy, we''d all go insane. -Jimmy Buffett

NYCJazz - Posted - 01/23/2009:  10:28:00

I agree with Compass.

Stick with the tuning you're familiar with.

Learn the chord inversions up & down the neck.

Get a good fake book (I suggest the David Littlefield seres).

Study all the records you can. Get the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives & Sevens, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Biederbecke collections for starters.

iTunes has a collection called "Vintage Jazz" thats like 170 songs for $17.99.

It's fun stuff, and you're already halfway there!

Jazz is the folk music of the machine age.

~ Paul Whiteman

yellowdog - Posted - 01/23/2009:  10:29:06

Bill Rutan, perhaps Atlanta's premier jazz banjoist who plays tenor (GDAE) banjo for Don Erdman's "Hotlanta Jazz Band", and who also plays solos on tenor, has tuned his banjo GDAE for almost his entire career. He's probably been playing jazz with GDAE tuning as long as the Irish have. Bill also prefers a short neck tenor and has a preference for Bacons. The first third of the following Youtube video is a very good and brief history of jazz with great photos, and the remainder is a recent performance of the band playing "Dr. Jazz". Bill takes a couple of vocals and tears up a jazz chorus on his GDAE tuned Bacon short neck with custom resonator. Bill doesn't use a capo and plays in any key. But tuning is a personal preference and mine is definitely CGDA for jazz and GDAE for Irish.

Frank Geiger

NYCJazz - Posted - 01/23/2009:  10:47:18

Eddy also prefers short neck tenors.

He says the 19 fret necks put too much tension on the strings (I agree).

BTW- I've never seen anyone play jazz banjo with a capo.

Jazz is the folk music of the machine age.

~ Paul Whiteman

minstrelmike - Posted - 01/23/2009:  11:10:02

Dixieland banjo is basically strumming chords and having the melody ring out on the 1st string. There are other options, but you're generally strumming full chords. I played with a Dixieland band for 4 years using my 5-string in open tuning (Ioosened the 5th and pulled it down beside the bridge). Nobody can hear the difference.

If you're reading arrangements, you might want to retune, but otherwise I would stick with whatever tuning you already know and learn to play your chords at the different places on the neck. The chords all sound the same when fretted and the melody notes are all the same so there is nothing to be gained musically by changing tunings. I have a couple mp3s on my homepage with the 5-string strummed with a flatpick behind a dixieland band and you can't tell what tuning it is in.

Same as if someone played Maxwell's Silver Hammer in Eb using all closed chord positions. I suspect only a few banjo players could tell that one person was using dbl-C tuning, another open G, another sawmill, and someone was actually playing it on a banjo-uke. A g-chord is a G no matter what instrument you're on.

Mike Moxcey
Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Granpdas Spells - Posted - 01/23/2009:  12:04:32

Tom, there's a long tradition of a small number of jazz players playing GDAE on tenor, all the way back to Elmer Snowden. I think it sounds great. Shouldn't be an issue if you want to learn that way unless you're trying to read standard notation.

Tom Banjo - Posted - 01/24/2009:  06:24:53

Thanks for the replies, everyone. I knew that some used the GDAE tuning, but didn't know how common it was. I'll be very new to this music style, and I've been looking at instruction books online to get my feet wet, and kind of assumed that I'd need CGDA to properly read the tab if it came that way. I can also read standard notation, it just takes me a little longer to work the fretboard that way. Maybe I should get some books and find out what would work best to get me started learning before I commit to a tuning. I've used CGDA capoed at the 2nd fret in the past for Irish style, and it didn't bother me too much, so it shouldn't mess me up too bad if I do go that route.
Thanks for the recommendations on fake books and people to listen to, also. I played saxophone in my high school jazz band for a year back in the mid-90's, but I've been out of the jazz loop since then, and feel like a 100% newbie!

banjofanatico - Posted - 01/24/2009:  08:50:58

I guess I would disagree. I have tried jazz playing in GDAE and it didn't work (at least for me). The notes were too low, and the strings too thick for jazz playing. Conversely, I've played Irish music in CGDA and it did work. You can just as well say that jazz "requires" a certain tuning and Irish music can be played in any tuning you like. And I believe Elmer Snowden played his tenor banjo in plectrum tuning (CGBD). I haven't had any problem with there being "too much tension" on the strings on a 19 fret tenor - what that means I don't know - of course there is more tension than on a 5-string, but I'm used to it and now the 5-strings feel like there is too little tension. CGDA is your best bet.

NYCJazz - Posted - 01/24/2009:  10:13:19

Here's a related post from Cynthia Sayers site to someone looking to play plectrum with baritone uke tuning:

"Tenor banjo tuning is C-G-D-A (low to high). I'm afraid I don't know baritone uke tuning. But frankly you are asking a question that has a subjective answer. Some people feel that one should tune an instrument only the proper way and others feel it's fine to tune it however it suits you and makes you happy, that there are no "rules." In principle I definitely agree with the latter. But if you are looking for the classic sound associated with the instrument, then you will not quite find it by tuning differently. Also, if you plan to use instructional materials, then of course using a different tuning could be difficult. But there are many wonderful players who used tunings different from the norm -- like my hero Elmer Snowden, who played tenor banjo pitched in 5ths but starting with a low G instead of a C. He did this because he used to play mandolin and so he preferred to keep the same tuning, and in the process he not only had a hot, swingy style but also his own unique lower banjo sound."

Jazz is the folk music of the machine age.

~ Paul Whiteman

Edited by - NYCJazz on 01/24/2009 10:17:22

Granpdas Spells - Posted - 01/24/2009:  11:42:42

And I believe Elmer Snowden played his tenor banjo in plectrum tuning (CGBD).

Definitely not plectrum. I've slowed down his Harlem Banjo! CD and played through a couple songs on a GDAE banjo. It was exactly the same notes in the chord construction. It can be difficult to tell, because the deeper chords and less-tense strings sound "plectrummy," but he was definitely playing GDAE.

Edited by - Granpdas Spells on 01/24/2009 11:44:22

Terry Allan Hall - Posted - 01/28/2009:  15:42:25

I use GDAE on anything (jazz, Celtic, rock, etc.) because I play mandolin, too, so tenor banjo/tenor guitar is just an extension of the mandolin, to me.

And nobody's complained at my gigs yet!

Thought for the day: To be loved deeply gives one strength; to love another deeply gives one courage - Lao Tzu

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