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Banjo Jazzer Dave Marty is 'Mr. Smooth'

Posted by dbanjoman on Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rick Foster

Banjo Jazzer Dave Marty is 'Mr. Smooth'

Whether entertaining on luxury cruise liners or appearing before convention audiences, California banjoman extraordinaire Dave Marty's nickname is "Mr. Smooth."

Marty, whose virtuosity as a performer and recording artist spans nearly a half century, will be the main headliner for this year’s Early Spring Banjo Fling April 3-6 at the Mansfield Holiday Inn. The event, which includes dozens of bands and solo performers playing everything from early 20th Century popular music to traditional and Dixieland jazz, is staged annually by the Stone Street Strummers Banjo Band.

Music captured the young Marty’s imagination almost from the start. From the age of 12, he had already begun teaching himself ukulele before eventually asking his father for something a little bigger. Marty actually had a guitar in mind, but for his 16th birthday, his dad surprised him with – of all things—a banjo.

He had trouble at first adjusting to the banjo’s long neck, and put the instrument aside for the next three years until he happened to hear a banjo player in a trio in a local pizza parlor.  “After hearing a couple of tunes, I decided I was as good as or better than the banjo player, and he was making money doing that,” said Marty. “Then and there I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
Before long, Marty had resurrected the banjo, joined the musician’s union and got his first professional job – also in a pizza parlor. He’s been playing ever since: 48 years in all.

Marty’s career began in beer halls and restaurants, but he soon branched out to night clubs in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans and New York City, not to mention Florence, Italy and the New York World’s Fair.

Together with David Sturdevant on guitar and Abe van der Meulen on side banjo, Marty formed the San Francisco Medicine Ball Band in 1970, recording an LP “On a Slow Boat to China” in 1976. Marty went on to record several other albums and spent 17 years as a featured performer on major cruise lines.

Marty revels in a wide variety of musical forms, from classical to Dixieland and traditional jazz along with music from the big band era. But the uniqueness of the banjo lays the strongest claim to his heart.   “Musically, the banjo tugs at the American heart because of the sound derived from the instrument; it is unlike any other American musical instrument and can be a happy one,” said Marty. “Culturally, the banjo is a big part of very early American popular music and dixieland jaz

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