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Jun 18, 2024 - 7:07:01 PM
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270 posts since 9/6/2016

And I don’t mean singing.

I took my tenor banjo with me today, planning to sit in the park and play a bit after work. In one of those wonderful NYC coincidences, I found myself near Penn Station a couple of hours after I got off, just in time to happen upon an in-progress bluegrass jam at the pedestrian plaza on West 33rd Street.

I sat down to listen, but one of the banjo players saw I had an instrument and waived me up. I wound up taking a break (in jazz speak, two choruses) on “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”. For rhythm, I tried to get into a different space than the five string players and just played double stops (without chopping or duplicating what the mandolins were doing).

Altogether, it was a fun and unexpected experience. I was invited back (the same group will be there again in a couple of weeks), and people said they liked what I did. The leader also let me know about a regular bluegrass jam in Brooklyn, so I will have to check that out soon.

I have been on a quest to get the tenor beyond Trad Jazz, great as that is. I sat in recently at one of the regular jazz jams in Greenwich Village (Smalls, down the street from the Village Vanguard), trying to play bebop. I managed to avoid train wrecking the tunes, and people responded positively to what I did.

Since I had a positive experience today as well, I will see what I can do with bluegrass four string as well as bebop, Prog rock, etc. I know it isn’t traditional (insert the obligatory “that ain’t no part of nothin’” here), but when I hear things like Arthur Smith’s “Battling Banjos” album; or his “Feudin’ Banjos” with Don Reno, I can hear the possibilities. This evening was a small step in that direction.

Jun 18, 2024 - 8:26:59 PM
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4 posts since 12/10/2023

I'm honestly suprised you weren't carried out by everyone in a mob cartoon style and thrown onto the street!

Just kidding, you know how welcome tenors are at those things. You must have been really killing it and intune with the vibe. So many problems can be solved with some respect and reading the room. I'm interested to know how it sounded! Did you take any solos?

Jun 18, 2024 - 8:48:48 PM

270 posts since 9/6/2016

I soloed, yes. I played a break and they told me keep going. Played a second break and they said keep going, so I played a third before stepping away from the mic.

I could hear what to do. I mean I have been playing guitar for 40 years, and improvising has always come naturally to me: It’s the easiest thing in the world for me to pick up an instrument and make up a song. And I could always hear how to fit a part when playing along with recordings. This was pretty much the same thing: Hear and react and fit the music.

Mind you, I can get waaaay outside (saxophonists John Coltrane, Eric Doplphy, Ornette Coleman, and Elton Dean are all huge influences), but I didn’t do so here. It would not have fit the context. But procedurally, it was just like playing jazz or Prog: Listen, above all, and play what fits, trust your ears and instincts. And sometimes what fits is silence.

TBA on further experiments.

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