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Dec 4, 2023 - 9:39:47 AM
547 posts since 10/21/2009


Something I’m wondering about..

When a tenor banjo and a plectrum banjo are in the same ensemble, what is the usual role of each instrument?  With and without vocals.

(For clarification, I’m thinking of around a 5-10 piece ensemble, and not a “banjo band” consisting of 98%+ banjos.)

Is that role of the tenor and plectrum banjo in a smaller ensemble, per the question above, changed from the 1920s - 1940s?

Thanks for your input :)


Edited by - rockyjo on 12/04/2023 09:41:04

Dec 4, 2023 - 11:22:05 AM
like this

1102 posts since 5/31/2004

In the 1920s, when a 4-string banjo was a standard fixture in the rhythm section of the typical dance band, it was extremely unusual for a bandleader to use more than one banjo.

One exception to this is the Paul Whiteman Orchestra of the late 1920s. But the size of this aggregation was well over 20 players.

The role of the banjo, whether tenor or plectrum, as far as can be determined from period recordings, was the same in such an ensemble.

As far as answering how the role of the banjo in a dance band might have changed in the decades following the 1920s, there is much more to take into account. By the early 1930s, very few professional dance bands were still using a banjo in their commercial recordings. Of course, some less prominent bands may have used a banjo in the rhythm section well into the '30s. The typical "Dixieland Revival" bands of the late '30s and 1940s never used banjos.

Spike Jones and his City Slickers as well as other types of non-typical bands used 4-string banjos in the 1940s but the typical "Big Band Era" bands certainly did not.

Dec 5, 2023 - 12:05:20 PM



547 posts since 10/21/2009

Thanks, Mike. I’m going to look into Spike Jones and CS.

Worth asking, does anyone know of a currently performing band/ensemble (again, not a group of almost all banjos), that has a tenor banjo and plectrum banjo in it?

Dec 5, 2023 - 5:42:39 PM

220 posts since 9/6/2016

I know Turk Murphy’s post-War bands had at least one banjo. I have read that West Coast bands favored the plectrum over the tenor, but I don’t know what Murphy used in his groups.

The Western Swing bands often used banjos, particularly the Light Crust Dough Boys. Smokey Montgomery’s tenor drove that band in much the same way as Freddie Green was the pulse of the Basie band.

Dec 5, 2023 - 5:50:59 PM

220 posts since 9/6/2016

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