Gerry O’Connor – described by many as the best four-string banjoist in the history of Irish music, lets creativity take him where it wants to. He’s been doing this for some time now, and in the process has collected a great army of admirers not only in Ireland but also around the world.
O’Connor has developed a phenomenal technique on the tenor banjo, which sometimes gives the impression that there are perhaps three or four clones of the man all playing at the same time, as is apparent on “Cam a Lochaigh” (Cam-a-luck-ig) on his CD Myriad.
In the tradition of the O’Connor family, Gerry was presented with a fiddle even before he was old enough to hold it properly. His father and uncles were all fiddle players. “The fiddle I got was to big for me and I couldn’t manage it at all,” he says, “But there was more to it than that. I wanted to be a bit different, sure I loved the music but I wanted to make a sound that was different from the fiddle.” It was this desire that lead him to the banjo after hearing a player from Limerick play at the Barge Inn in Garry Kennedy. O’Connor instantly fell in love with the bright, rippling sound and had at last discovered the vehicle that would allow him to make an enormous contribution to the development of Irish music.
Gerry “banjo” O’Connor played banjo and fiddle with the band Four Men and a Dog during the 1990s.
O’Connor’s music has been featured on the BBC Series Tacsi and he has appeared as a guest on over 12 albums by such artists as Gordon Duncan and Niamh Parsons. Is he satisfied’ “Well, I suppose it is the curse and the joy of the musician and the artist in general. You’re never quite satisfied. I suppose the day I’m satisfied is the day I’ll lay down the banjo for good.”
Gerry “banjo” O’Connor has made several tuition videos and books for musicians who are learning how to play the banjo:
Tony Trischka is one of the most influential banjo players in the American roots music world. In his 40 plus years as a consummate banjo artist his stylings have inspired generations of bluegrass and acoustic musicians.
A true luminary in the banjo world, his technical and conceptual advances opened the way for such players as Bela Fleck and Alison Brown. His recordings with them and others such as Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Pete Seeger, members of REM, William S. Burroughs, Natalie Merchant, Alison Krauss and Steve Martin are part of every banjo-lovers musical reference.
Tony has raised the awareness of both the banjo and his music with numerous articles in the national press, interviews on radio, and television appearances. His solo album for Smithsonian Folkways Records, Territory was named Best Americana Album at the Independent Music Awards. He also produced Steve Martin’s Rare Bird Alert (Rounder) which features performances by Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks.
Tony is also the musical director of the documentary The Banjo Project, aired on PBS. In addition Tony is one of the instrument’s top teachers and has created numerous instructional books DVDs and CDs.
The ground-breaking Tony Trischka School of Banjo launched in July of 2009.
Bluegrass Light (Rounder Select 1973)
Heartlands (Rounder 1975)
Banjoland (Rounder Select 1976)
Fiddle Tunes for Banjo (Rounder 1981)
Robot Plane Flies Ove Arkansas (Rounder Select 1983) Hill Country (Rounder Select 1985)
Skyline Drive (FlyingFish 1986)
Dust on the Needle (Rounder 1987)
Fire of Grace (Flying Fish 1989)
World Turning (Rounder Select 1993)
Alone & Together Alcazar 1994) Glory Shone Around: A Christmas Collection (Rounder 1995)
Live at Birchmere Strictly Music 1995)
Bend (Rounder 1999)
New Deal (Rounder 2003) Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular (Rounder 2007)
Territory (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2008)
The Mountain Music Project: A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya (Mountain Music Project 2012) Great Big World (Rounder 2014)
Echo in the Valley is the second album by husband and wife duo Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Both musicians are banjo innovators and Echo in the Valley is a real treat for banjo music fans.
Most of the material on Echo in the Valley is new, innovative material composed by the duo along with a handful of arrangements of traditional songs and material from other composers.
This is definitely not traditional bluegrass, but instead exquisitely-designed new acoustic music, rooted in American traditions, from bluegrass to folk and jazz.
Throughout Echo in the Valley, Fleck and Washburn use a wide-range of banjos (seven in total) that are plucked and bowed, along with Abigail’s mesmerizing and expressive vocals, and percussive dance on one song.
The physical CD version is beautifully packaged with a cut out shape of the two musicians and includes lyrics and credits.
Monoswezi – A Je (Riverboat Records TUG1103, 2017)
Transnational band Monoswezi, led by Hallvard Godal has released another fine example of African and world fusion. A Je showcases Pan-African influences that include West African ngoni, Zimbabwean mbira, trans-African percussion; African American banjo; along with Indian harmonium.
Monoswezi is at its best when the explosive mix of global percussion, traditional strings and western musical instruments interact with each other.
Personnel: Hallvard Godal (Norway) on vocals, harmonium and clarinet; Sidiki Camara (Mali) on ngoni; Kim Johannesen (Norway) on banjo; Hope Masike (Zimbabwe) on mbira, percussion and vocals; Calu Tsemane (Mozambique) on vocals and percussion; Putte Johander (Norway) on vocals and bass; and Erik Nylander (Sweden) on drums and percussion.
Noam Pikelny was born February 27, 1981, in Chicago, Illinois. He is one of the finest banjo musicians in the United States. In 2004 he released his first solo album titled In the Maze. In 2010 he was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass earning him an appearance on the popular American TV program The Late Show with David Letterman.
In 2011 Pikelny released his second album Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail. The album hit both the Billboard Top Heatseekers and Bluegrass album charts and was the focus of a Funny or Die parody video starring Pikelny with appearances from Steve Martin, Ed Helms, Earl Scruggs, Chris Thile, Gillian Welch and others.
Noam Pikelny works regularly with well-known artists beyond the bluegrass world including Punch Brothers Wilco Fiona Apple Norah Jones and Jon Brion for the soundtrack to This is 4 a feature song on The Hunger Games soundtrack and a collaboration with Marcus Mumford for the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.
In 2013 Noam Pikelny released Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, an interpretation of traditional Bluegrass through a bold complete adaptation of one of the most influential instrumental bluegrass records of all-time. Joining Pikelny on this album are some the best instrumentalists in bluegrass: Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), and Mike Bub (bass).
The original album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe was recorded in 1976 five years before Pikelny was even born. It contains twelve classic tunes written by the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and performed by his longtime fiddler Kenny Baker (1926-2012). While many outstanding musicians worked for Bill Monroe, Monroe would introduce Kenny Baker to audiences as “the best in bluegrass.”
Baker’s fiddle provided an elegant and refined voice to Monroe’s music and Pikelny accurately transposes Baker’s versions to the banjo note-for-note track-by-track. It is the first bluegrass record that remakes an entire album in sequence though never turning into an exercise in musical impersonation; instead Pikelny uses the Monroe instrumentals as blueprints and catalysts for his own improvisations and those of his band.
Lee Sexton is one of the most respected and revered traditional musicians in eastern Kentucky. A master of traditional banjo styles both two-finger picking and “drop-thumb” (clawhammer) Sexton has lived his whole life near his birthplace in Letcher County Kentucky.
Born in 1927 he grew up in an intensely musical family and community He worked for a week clearing a field to earn the dollar that bought him his first banjo a homemade wooden fretless model with a groundhog skin head that he acquired when he was eight years old With instruction from his father and uncles (one of whom was the legendary banjo player Morgan Sexton Sexton soon mastered the instrument and the fiddle as well He is also a powerful singer whose repertoire includes such classics as “Cumberland Gap” and “Little Birdie.” As a young man he would work all week in the mines and then play music all weekend at house parties, bean stringings and corn shuckings.
In his sixty-five year musical career Lee has been an essential figure in the musical life of his community and one of the foremost tradition bearers of Kentucky’s mountain music heritage He has played from front porches and community dances to radio stations national festivals and college campuses.
He is a regular at Appalshop’s annual Seedtime on the Cumberland festival and at Hindman Settlement School’s Family Folk Week. He was featured in Appalshop’s music video, Whoa Mule, shown on Country Music Television and The Nashville Network and garnered a brief scene in the 198 film Coal Miner’s Daughter based on the life of Loretta Lynn where he appears playing at a square dance. In 1999 he was presented with the Kentucky Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.
Earl Scruggs was born and grew up near Shelby, North Carolina in Cleveland County.
For many bluegrass began when Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s band with his blazingly fast three-fingered picking banjo style. It quickly became and remains the standard for the true bluegrass banjo sound.
Earl?s next endeavor, Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, continued his fame and legend through work in films and television. From 1948 until 1969 Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys dominated the bluegrass field due to their residency on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville yet that renown was dwarfed by their huge success in 1962.
In 1962 they recorded the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies leading bluegrass into mainstream American culture. That popular TV show led Flatt & Scruggs’ long-time signature tune, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, to be chosen as the background music for the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. In 1969 Earl sought a more contemporary sound and split with Lester to make music with his sons and other musicians in Nashville.
Though it’s been more than three decades since they broke up the music of Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys continues to define the bluegrass sound. The band was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985. Earl Scruggs received the National Heritage Award in 1989, the highest honor given by the National Endowment for the Arts to folk and traditional artists.
Stove Up is the first acoustic bluegrass recording focused on the banjo released by multi-faceted musician Danny Barnes. The acclaimed banjo virtuoso invited seasoned bluegrass musicians to collaborate on Stove Up.
The repertoire includes original material as well as recreations of traditional songs. Throughout the album, Danny Barnes and his colleague deliver dazzling performances deeply inspired by traditional bluegrass music, acoustic jams and blues.
The lineup includes Danny Barnes on banjo, vocals and 12-string acoustic guitar; Nick Forster on guitar and mandolin; Chris Henry on mandolin; Jason Carter on fiddle; and Mike Bub on bass.
Stove Up features impeccable examples of bluegrass craftsmanship.
Canadian banjo explorer Jayme Stone is a musician that combines bluegrass, jazz, old time and African music.
Jayme Stone picked up a passion for music from an eccentric uncle who listened to records endlessly, placing his ashtray on the speaker so Stone could join him in watching how the cigarette smoke swirled to the music.
An unlikely set of circumstances has lent Stone a broader set of reference points than most banjoists and those early beginnings have influenced his sound, choice of material, and collaborations. It started with the architecture of the banjo, led to a mysterious librarian who stocked his local public library with a vast trove of banjo recordings, and landed him long-lasting lessons with a series of maestros, from Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka, to Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell.
His CD titled The Utmost (2007), was co-produced by David Travers-Smith, was made possible through assistance from the Music Section of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Jayme spent several weeks in Mali in 2007, where he sought out the roots of the banjo. His highlights included sitting in at Toumani Diabate’s Hogon nightclub with Toumani’s twenty piece Symmetric Orchestra.
Jayme Stone now leads 2 quartets – the eponymous JSQ and the Africa to Appalachia project.
JSQ’s repertoire is diverse, ranging from a twelve-part composition in eleven, a dirge for Ray Charles, and a medley of Appalachian fiddle tunes all in the same set. They travel from bluegrass hoedowns to jazz festivals.
The Africa to Appalachia project evolved from Jayme’s travels to West Africa to learn the history of his instrument, the banjo. Although Stone’s mission was to uncover common musical ground between Africa and Appalachia – like the shared affinity for sustaining culture and the similar open-string styles – he found the differences between two continents just as intriguing. This is the sound of traditional music re-imagined.
In 2015, Stone released Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, a collaboration with several acclaimed musicians, including Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Brittany Haas, Julian Lage and others.
Bela Fleck is often considered the leading banjo player in the world. He was born on July 10, 1958, and raised in New York City. Named after composer Bela Bartok, Bela picked up the banjo at age 15 after being fascinated by the bluegrass playing of Flatt & Scruggs. He began experimenting with playing bebop on the banjo in high school.
In 1982, he joined the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, where he made a name for himself in the country-bluegrass world. At the same time he was releasing a series of solo albums for Rounder Records.
He collaborated with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor in an acoustic super-group called Strength in Numbers. The group released an iconic album titled The Telluride Session (MCA) in 1989.
In 1989 Bela formed the Flecktones. The group made its self-titled debut recording in 1990 by playing a “blu-bop” mix of jazz and bluegrass and soon became a commercially successful, critically-acclaimed and award-winning band. Fleck, the only musician to be nominated for Grammys in jazz, bluegrass, pop, country, spoken word, Christian, composition and world music categories, also recorded solo releases.
Bela Fleck began the decade of 2000 by signing a deal with Sony Music. The first release was Outbound, that featured the band performing with an all-star group of guest artists including vocalists Shawn Colvin and Jon Anderson (of the group Yes), guitarist Adrian Belew, oboe player Paul McCandless, and keyboardist John Medeski (of the jazz jam-band Medeski, Martin & Wood). Like previous Flecktones albums, the music on Outbound is a mix of styles-from bluegrass to jazz to world music-that is often built around Fleck’s concept of “the banjo being weird.”
In 2003, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones released Little Worlds, the first new studio album from the group since 2000’s Grammy-winning Outbound. Produced by Bela Fleck, the new album is a monumental work on 3 CDs and includes many special guests, including Sam Bush, The Chieftains, Jerry Douglas, Branford Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Nickel Creek, Derek Trucks, and Bernie Williams. The album is a collaborative effort showcasing the ever-evolving group dynamics of the band.
The ambitious Little Worlds is an eclectic, yet cohesive, collection of 27 musical pieces. The limited-edition 3 disc set includes liner notes by Bela Fleck and a 24 page booklet filled with photos taken by the Flecktones and their crew. The group began work on the album in October 2001, with the original intention of creating a “lean and mean” “no rules” record with just the four band members: Bela Fleck (banjo), Victor Wooten (bass), Future Man (synth-axe drumitar), and Jeff Coffin (tenor and alto sax). As the recording process progressed, it became apparent that these were no ordinary sessions and the floodgates of musical inspiration and diversity had opened. Ranging from jazz to Gaelic airs and bluegrass to classical and world music Little Worlds is the band’s most adventurous album.
Throw Down Your Heart, Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3: Africa Sessions (2009) chronicles Fleck’s musical journey to Africa to explore the little known African roots of the banjo. Bela’s boundary-breaking musical adventure took him to Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali, and provided a glimpse of the beauty and complexity of African music.
In 2006, jazz keyboardist Chick Corea and Béla Fleck joined together to explore the interactions between the piano and banjo. Corea was an admirer of Fleck’s bluegrass-meets-jazz band the Flecktones and Fleck had been inspired by Corea’s pioneering jazz-rock fusion band, Return to Forever. The two musicians recorded The Enchantment, released in 2007. This collaboration also led to multiyear international live tours.
Béla Fleck and his wife (also an acclaimed banjo player) Abigail Washburn released Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (Rounder Records) in 2014. The recording featured new music, Appalachian murder ballads, gospel, chamber pieces and blues. Both musicians are generally credited for revitalizing and revolutionizing the banjo and decided it was time to collaborate. “We didn’t want any other instruments on there, because we’re into this idea that we’re banjo players, and that should be enough,” said Béla. “Sometimes when you add other instruments, you take away from the ability of the banjo to show all its colors, which are actually quite beautiful.”
Béla Fleck and Chick Corea followed up in 2015 with a recording titled Two (Concord Jazz), a live double album with material from The Enchantment, along with Corea and Fleck classic pieces and a few additional new compositions.
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (Warner Bros. Records, 1990) Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (Warner Bros. Records, 1991) UFO Tofu (Warner Bros. Records, 1992)
Three Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Warner Bros. Records, 1993) Live Art (Warner Bros. Records, 1996)
Left of Cool (Warner Bros. Records, 1998)
Greatest Hits of the 20th Century (Warner Bros. Records, 1999) Outbound (Columbia, 2000)
Live at the Quick (Columbia, 2002)
Little Worlds (Columbia, 2003)
Ten From Little Worlds (Columbia, 2003)
The Hidden Land (Sony, 2006)
Jingle All the Way (Rounder, 2008) Rocket Science (eOne, 2011)
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion