Posted by yellowdog on Thursday, April 3, 2008
I'm not a good enough banjo soloist to entertain an audience by simply playing the banjo (a 'la Harry Reser, John Cali, and Buddy Wachter), and I certainly can't tell a joke. My solution to these serious shortcomings has been to sing almost every song that I play and to inject many interesting anecdotes about the composers, lyricists, and entertainers who made the tunes popular. Interesting trivia of the "remember when" type is also fair game. This format, (which I loosely follow while perched on a stool next to a wonderful piano amp, a great dynamic microphone, and a tune list) has worked well for me - and too well in some cases. ("I liked the stories better than the banjo!" some lady once said!)
Maybe this format works for me because over the years I have grown from being a typical "tenor banjo nut" into a nut about American popular music/songs as well as a nut about the history of this music and show business. As a result I am thoroughly happy when I am sharing this triple mania that I have with my audience, and I am sure that my enthusiasm and happiness is catchy.
If you would like to try this format but need anecdotes, I highly recommend reading these books and also purchasing the "Tin Pan Alley" book by David A. Jasen because it is a wonderful reference. You can often find used or new copies of these books online from book clearing houses such as www.alibris.com, which I have used for years and recommend:
"Tin Pan Alley, The Composers, the Songs, the Performers and their Times", by David A Jasen, Donald I. Fine, Inc, New York. 1988. (Wonderful, totally essential reference);
"My Life Is in Your Hands & Take My Life, The Autobiographies of Eddie Cantor", Cooper Square Press, 2000 (A recent single volume reprint of Eddie Cantors autobiographies of 1928 and 1957) (Very funny reading for anyone);
"Girl Singer", by Rosemary Clooney with Joan Barthel, Doubleday, 1999;
"Bing Crosby, A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years, 1903-1940", by Gary Giddins, Little, Brown and Company, 2001;
You may also like to subscribe to "Sheet Music Magazine", which has both music and articles related to this type of music plus a few more modern tunes/stories.
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