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Uncommonly Strong Clawhammer #5: Jésaïg

Posted by tfaux on Monday, December 23, 2013

like this


Brittany is the peninsula in northeastern France that sticks out into the Celtic Sea, stretching toward England. It is a region culturally and historically distinct from the rest of France, linked linguistically and musically to the Celtic areas of the British Isles: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. Traditional Breton music is often modal and droning, typically played on a hair-raising double reed pipe appropriately called a bombarde, accompanied by one of several types of regional bagpipe (binioux.) In the ongoing Breton folk "revival," the button accordion has often replaced the bagpipes--as it has throughout the Celtic world and elsewhere--and traditional melodies these days are frequently played on saxophone, giving tradition an industrial age spin. Banjo is completely outside the tradition of course, but works beautifully.

I first heard this compelling Breton tune played by the great Irish uilleann piper Paddy Keenan who recorded it under the title Jezaique on his 1986 album "Poirt an Phiobaire."  The poignant modal melody was composed in the traditional style by Gilles LeBigot, a songwriter and guitarist from Brittany. Gilles has told me that he conceived the tune many years ago as a declaration of amour, thus it is perfectly suited to modal tuning--in this case, E-modal.  A great tune to play for your friends who still think of banjo music as giddy, mindless, and overly optimistic. 

The tune is not difficult, and I have posted it in the "beginner" section of the tab archive. As always, in the interest of clarity I have left out the banjo filler “ditties” and I have not specifically indicated “pull-off,” “hammer-on,” etc.  If you’ve gotten this far you probably know where they go.

I made the recording on a gourd banjo built by Peter Fagan, of Urbana, Illinois. The tuning is eBEAB (A-modal lowered a 4th):

Recording is HERE>          

.PDF tab is HERE>


Les Sonneurs de Plozévet.  Bronze statue by René Quillivic (1909) Plozévet, France honoring the brothers Pascal and Philibert Guéguen, players of the bombarde and biniou. (photo: Ackles29 via Wikimedia Commons)

5 comments on “Uncommonly Strong Clawhammer #5: Jésaïg”

ybg Says:
Monday, January 6, 2014 @1:39:32 PM

Tom, Lovely piece. Nicely played. Has a certain Moorish influence to it. Drifted up from Southern Spain most likely, several hundred years ago. Good to see the banjo stretching it's wings. Cheers

Dabs Says:
Monday, January 6, 2014 @2:23:34 PM

Great stuff I could stand a lot more of that!

tfaux Says:
Thursday, January 9, 2014 @7:41:44 PM

Thanks! Really makes my day to get kind comments from banjo players.

cornfed Says:
Sunday, January 26, 2014 @11:10:53 AM

Great tune, beautifully done. Damn it! another on my to learn list. The beastly thing is getting unmanageable. I guess I'll heve to retire!

tfaux Says:
Sunday, January 26, 2014 @12:41:57 PM

Glad you've come to your senses Cornfed.

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