Participants will study a variety of historical approaches to banjo-playing. We’ll study downstroke techniques from Odell Thompson, up-picking techniques from Etta Baker, and more as time allows. These are useful tools for supporting the melody in solo performance, and for supporting the fiddle player in an ensemble. The banjo occupies a unique place between the rhythm and melody instruments of a string band. These workshops will provide participants with useful ideas for how to engage that flexibility and give each tune and ensemble just the rhythm and texture it needs.
The Banjo Style of Odell Thompson: Participants will learn a tune or two from banjo player Odell Thompson of Mebane, NC. Odell often performed as a duo with his fiddling cousin, Joe Thompson. In their tradition, the banjo was viewed as the lead instrument, and the fiddle followed. Odell led the tunes boldly, providing a strong rhythm while accenting the contours of the tune. We’ll learn some of his favorite tricks, and discuss his overall approach.
Etta Baker’s Up-Picking Style: Etta Baker is perhaps best known as a skilled Piedmont blues guitarist; however, she also played the banjo. Given that many blues guitarists of Baker’s generation claimed to have learned from banjo-playing relatives, her unique up-picking style may represent an important crossover point for old-time and blues music. Participants will learn a tune as she played it.
Participants should be familiar with the basic clawhammer “bum-ditty” stroke. Tunes will be taught exclusively by ear, so a recording device is recommended. Fretted banjos will fare better than fretless ones as we journey into fingerstyle material.
Jake Blount is an award-winning banjoist, fiddler, singer and scholar based in Washington, DC. He has studied with modern masters of old-time music, including Bruce Molsky, Judy Hyman (of the Horse Flies), and Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins (of the GRAMMY-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops). Although he is proficient in multiple old-time styles, he specializes in the music of Black and Native American communities in the southeastern United States, and in the regional style of Ithaca, New York. In 2016, Blount became the first Black person to make the finals at the prestigious Appalachian String Band Music Festival (better known as Clifftop), and the first to win in the traditional band category.
Blount has shared his music and research at the Smithsonian Institution, the Old Songs Folk Festival, and Berklee School of Music, as well as numerous other venues and institutions. He teaches fiddle and banjo privately, as well as at camps like the Augusta Heritage Center’s Old-Time Week, the Ashokan Center’s Old-Time Rollick, and Earful of Fiddle Music and Dance Camp.