Posted by ChuckJo on Tuesday, March 30, 2010
March 19-21st marked the 4th (I think) Suwannee Banjo Camp that I have directed with Ken Perlman.
The work of putting on a camp goes on all year, with lots of thought put into every aspect. We work hard to select a faculty of great players and teachers (not always the same thing), arranging the publicity and the program, communicating with campers, getting tents in place, organizing tasks for our work-study students, putting on the concerts, and trying to make sure the material we teach is fresh and new. We try to learn from our past mistakes knowing ahead of time that no matter what we do, we are bound to make new missteps each year.
Each year the actual camp that takes place is a revelation, I get to meet new and old friends, and get to witness amazing musicians gather together and spark off one another.
There were a number of highlights for me personally. I got to meet Cathy Barton and Dave Para, musicians I have followed for years. It turns out that they are even nicer in person than the lovely songs they bring to life. I spent time with my good friend Bill Paine in a great slow jam where the music flowed and it seemed like we all played together. In the next night’s intermediate jam,. I was tucked in between Brad Leftwich’s elegant fiddling and Paul Brown’s steady guitar. Late at night I joined a fearless jam of screaming tunes. I got a chance to meet and play with James Mckinney, a fireball of a player, when we were both too tired, but what the heck. He ran all over the fingerboard like a hound that got his nose in the pepper! I got to see Scott Anderson, a fine bluegrass banjoist from Gainesville strut his stuff. For the second year in a row, Adam Hurt joined me in the faculty concert for a 6-string (me) 5-string (Adam) duet. It is a great pleasure to figure out how to find complementary accompaniment to his vibrant playing. I also played clawhammer banjp to Aisha Ivey’s passionate Celtic fiddling. I am not sure I did her justice, but it sure was fun.
I also had the chance to meet Tony Trischka for the first time, one of the leading banjoists of his (and my) generation. Of course I have heard, and heard of Tony for a long time but meeting him was especially special. One of my favorite memories from SBC 2010 took place at the end of camp, when Mac Benford and Tony had overlapping free periods. Tony arranged to have Mac play and teach him the tune Black Jack Grove, a Kentucky Fiddle tune from Walter McNew. I was nearby when they slipped in a cabin, and they graciously allowed me to sit in and listen. There was Mac, reeling out the tune in his spare three-finger style, while Tony gathered it in, and they played along, also with three fingers, but with an entirely different approach. As Mac played through, Tony would get closer and closer to Mac’s melody: a clarification here, a subtle shift there, run through it again, and then again. It was a thrill to see these old friends and masters of different styles that are too often seen as separate, bridge the gap and play together.
I had sent Tony a copy of Banjourneys prior to camp at Bob Carlin’s suggestion. Tony helped lead me to Roz Chast, the famed New Yorker cartoonist, who drew the illustration on the cover of Banjourneys, and Bob thought it would be courteous to send Tony a copy. Much to my delight, Tony had taken the time to listen to it, and to my great relief, liked it.
I asked Tony if he would be willing for me to quote him, and this is what he sent me:
“Banjourneys is wonderful blend of banjo and fiddle voices drawing from old-time and West-African traditions, with a shade of cowboy music and the Rolling Stones too. The amazing thing is how well it all fits together; at turns haunting, lyrical, and loads of fun, neatly wrapped up in a Roz Chast cover.”
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