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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Playing jazz on the five string

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chackrams - Posted - 01/15/2018:  11:59:16

Hello community,

I have just recently taken up music on the 5-string banjo and seek advice from all of you generous distributors of banjo knowledge. What playing styles for 5-string banjo best serve a jazz musician (Scruggs, clawhammer, etc.)? I am pretty new, but I have read and played a lot. Any advice for playing jazz on the banjo would be appreciated!

Thanks in advance,

Luke Maranto

thisoldman - Posted - 01/15/2018:  12:12:37

This might be a place to start:  Pat is a HO member.  

Edited by - thisoldman on 01/15/2018 12:16:44

thisoldman - Posted - 01/15/2018:  12:23:34

This article might be worth a read:!

chackrams - Posted - 01/15/2018:  12:34:22


Originally posted by thisoldman

This article might be worth a read:!

That article was great! It talked a lot about what my short experiences have been. Lots of banjo players playing jazz songs that just sound like bluegrass or something else. I have heard some banjo players who do a good job of making it sound like jazz, but they are few and far between. 

chackrams - Posted - 01/15/2018:  12:37:28

Perhaps the context that I am a lindy hopper who seeks to play for dancers (swing) might be helpful.

thisoldman - Posted - 01/15/2018:  13:17:54

Knowing that you are a dancer and want to play "swing" music will definitely help future posters.

Maybe this site will be of some help?

Can I assume that you can swing dance to some "modern" tunes as well as music from the 30's and 40's?  Assuming the piece had the right rhythm, etc.?

chackrams - Posted - 01/15/2018:  13:23:02

thisoldman, modern but having the right rhythm and feel is key. There are tons of bands that are putting out music that is great for lindy hopping and I travel all over to dance to their music. They play a lot of old trad jazz classics but mix in some originals or newer tunes as well. It is definitely all jazz though.

Bill H - Posted - 01/15/2018:  14:23:08

Listen to Alison Brown playing five string jazz.

thisoldman - Posted - 01/15/2018:  18:17:31

You might list some of your favorite bands/groups (that are on your homepage) in this post so people know the type of music you are interested in. I watched some of this video by the California Feetwarmers (very appropriate name, by the way) and got an idea of what you are thinking of.  I don't remember how to embed videos in a post, otherwise I would have done that instead of the link.    

chackrams - Posted - 01/15/2018:  19:06:31

Most jazz bands that have banjo players feature tenor banjos. very seldom do I find 5-string banjo players among jazz musicians. The California Feetwarmers do sometimes. If I find a video of a band I particularly like with a 5-string banjo, I will post it here.

chackrams - Posted - 01/15/2018:  19:13:38

This guy does a great job of playing scrugs style while still sounding like a jazz musician. So I know it can be done. However he is more of a guitar player.

chackrams - Posted - 01/15/2018:  19:28:45

here is another video of a 5-string banjo player capturing the sound of jazz well on a banjo.

Being a new musician, I am uncertain how to describe the music or music theory that separates jazz banjo sound from bluegrass and oldtime banjo sound.

mwb-tele - Posted - 01/15/2018:  20:15:50

Listen to John Balch (jbalch here on BHO). Many of his tunes have jazz-like feel to them. Really tasty music!


janolov - Posted - 01/15/2018:  22:50:08

Pat Cloud plays a lot of jazz on the five-string. Check his homepage:

JoeDownes - Posted - 01/16/2018:  13:55:18

Listen to Bela Fleck with John Coltrane's pianist McCoy Tyner. I prefer jazz guitar but Bela does a great job on the banjo.


Edited by - JoeDownes on 01/16/2018 13:56:18

Tom Hanway - Posted - 01/17/2018:  04:33:33

With jazz trio Arcadia (featuring Scott Wenzel on clarinet and alto sax) from Rye, NY, we play standards such as 'How High the Moon' with Parker's 'Ornithology'. It's admittedly old hat; still, the latter tune is based on the former, and the changes are virtually the same, but not quite. (Now, come to think of it, Les Paul's version of 'How High the Moon' with Mary Ford eliminates some of the changes and puts it in overdrive. There's great freedom in Les's version. Imelda May and Jeff Beck did a re-make of that not too long ago.)

Scott Wenzel is a modern-day Leonard Feather, also a bandleader (Reddy Valentino Orchestra). He is a leading light at Mozaic Records, which is somehow still doing business in a dying and fossilized record industry. (The kids ain't buying, and the old fans are dying.) Check out Mozaic's vast catalog while you still can.

Mozaic is one of the few hardcore jazz labels left. They lease many recordings from other record companies, and have acquired others that are no more.

It's so sad to see the old jazz labels and artists fading out of existence....

Okay, the versions below are based on the standard changes (here in G Major):

I don't call myself a jazz musician. You see, where I come from (NYC), one is either a bluesman or a Broadway guy. If one is the latter, well, he has a dental plan.  

I'll dig around for more jazz tunes. [I'll need to review them to see if they're any good, I know I have 'Ornithology' and 'Take 5' (raised a half-step to play with non-horn players) floating around.]




Edited by - Tom Hanway on 01/17/2018 04:39:30

steve davis - Posted - 01/19/2018:  09:37:17

Find jazz tabs from Bill Keith to the newest players.

Fathand - Posted - 01/22/2018:  08:48:38

Do you want to be a jazz musician or do you want to play jazz tunes there can be a difference as there are many definitions of jazz. Alan Munde just published a great book with 70 jazz(y) tunes, .

Take a listen to Don Reno performing many tunes that are in the jazz repertoire,Lime House Blues, Whispering, World is Waiting for a Sunrise, the kinds of things that Les Paul played. Don used a combination of Scruggsish style, Single String, Strumming with FIngerpicks. Earl Scruggs gave us a few too, Dear Old Dixie, Farewell blues, Cant Stop Me from Dreaming

Bela Fleck and Pat Cloud have already been mentioned.


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