I spent a few weeks down south in April on some very exciting musical endeavors. The first of which was the Acoustic Music Seminar, hosted by the Savannah Music Festival, and organized by Mike Marshall. It was a week of workshops and creative collaboration between many of the best young string musicians in the country, and the ‘faculty’ including Mike Marshall, Tony Trischka, Edgar Meyer, and Julian Lage. I feel completely honored to have been a part of this event. It was a truly priceless experience to sit in a small room and discuss the creative process and compositional and arranging ideas with some of the players who have influenced me the most. Particularly Julian Lage. He conveys the sounds he hears to his audience in a more honest, and more complete way than most any other performer I’ve ever seen. I’m inspired not only by his compositional and improvisational abilities (which are completely out of this world), but the direction in which he is taking his music. Much of the Acoustic Music Seminar was spent discussing the balance between representing tradition and creating with your own voice. In my mind Julian’s work has achieved that balance. He is pushing the instrumentation boundaries a bit with the cello and hand percussion, but more importantly he is moving away from traditional 32 bar forms and 4 chorus solos and focusing on what a piece of music really needs to say (or doesn’t need to say). This newer type of architecture is still held together by beautifully simple melodies and movement that seems as if it were the only sensible option, to create music (maybe jazz) that is intellectual, but timelessly easy to listen to.
I also spent good time with Tony Trischka in Savannah. Of course Tony is one of my heros, and one of the great banjo players of all time. His touch on the instrument is so brutal and in-your-face, if his banjo were a person I think he’d be arrested for assault. But fortunately it’s just a banjo, and he makes it sing. I’m always on the edge of my seat playing with Tony, waiting for the next crazy idea that he’s going to force out of the 5-string. That’s not to say that Tony cant play sweet too, he certainly can. But I always find myself gravitating to his early albums, ‘Banjo Land’ and ‘Bluegrass Light’ where he’s just knockin the doors off the place.
The musicians of Tony Trischka and Mike Marshall’s generation had a much different balance of tradition and creativity in their music than we do today. My generation has access to so much music and information that it becomes a more complex situation for us than it was for our predecessors. Weeding through whats out there to find something that really speaks to you is hard. The result of not finding something you really relate to is becoming a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. I’d say that’s the plight of the advancing musician in 2012. A week with my ‘co-workers’ of sorts and some heavy mentors really helped me to locate whats important in my musical life, and I feel pretty good about it. I’m writing more, with the goal of a solo album getting closer all the time.
Also while down south, I went to Merlefest for the Banjo Contest, and took 2nd place. The contest was judged by Pete Wernick, Mark Shatz, and Weston Stewart (last years winner). They wrote a nice paragraph about me, which you can find here. This year I have arranged ‘Redwing’, ‘Jerusalem Ridge’, and ‘Road To Columbus’. I have not yet recorded them, but have plans to soon. I still need to arrange one more tune for Winfield this September. It’s a neat scene at the banjo contests, lots of very talented players doing all kinds of things, and everyone’s pretty dang nice to one another. I saw a few players I met last year at Winfield competing at Merlefest this year, and I look forward to seeing them again at Winfield #41.