Ragtime Banjo Revival, Pt. 1

It’s been over a week since I got back from the Banjo Gathering and I am still buzzing with the energy of that experience. Part of the thrill of the Banjo Gathering is seeing friends and exploring this very specific field of study we find ourselves drawn into. Another important part for me is simply being part of a group of people who share understanding.
 
For me it’s the way we understand the importance of acknowledging the uncomfortable parts of our history in order to be able to move forward. In other words, we all know and can speak openly with each other about the slave trade origins of the banjo and the ways it was used as a prop in minstrel shows to perpetuate  demeaning stereotypes of  African Americans, for example.
 
This isn’t the only group I’ve found that gives me that special feeling, I am fortunate to have found a few. I hope you all know the feeling of being around people with whom you share very specific understanding.
 
Greetings and Welcome! In this email I have the following to share:
– Ragtime Banjo Revival Update
– Upcoming Gigs
– New Videos on YouTube (Subscribe with one click!)
– Patreon Is Still Cool
– Book Report
 
Ragtime Banjo Revival Update
First, I want you to know that while this is the main project in my life it is in no way “taking over” or becoming “all-consuming.” The big milestone was sharing my progress in a presentation at the Banjo Gathering, and I now have that presentation available on YouTube so you can see for yourself. I thought I might not have enough material to fill the time but it went by fast!

 

At this point I have all the musicians I need on board, with rehearsals scheduled. We even have our first recording session scheduled (for next week!) I am fortunate to have all these talented people willing to work with me for the fun of it, although I have promised everyone I will pay them as soon as I can raise the money. You can imagine, it’s hard to get people to prioritize your rehearsal or recording session when you can only offer to pay them later on.

 

If you are interested in helping this project happen, I am not yet in the crowdfunding phase of the project, but I am looking for private donors who can help cover production costs (around $25k). Once we get the recordings done I’ll be able to put more time into crowdfunding to raise post-production costs (around another $25k). So if you or someone you know is interested in helping at this stage, here’s how:

 

– Visit www.ragtimebanjo.com/donate and click “Donate,” and put “RBR” in the Notes to organizers
– Go directly to the square site to donate
– Make check payable to: DTOS – RBR and mail to:

Senate Theater
6424 Michigan Ave.
Detroit, MI 48210

 

These donations are tax-deductible as my fiscal sponsor, Detroit Theater Organ Society, is a nonprofit. They will send a receipt. I’m including a longer description of the project at the end of this email in case you think of anyone you’d like to forward it to.

 

Upcoming Gigs
There’s not many but I am providing accompaniment this weekend for a fantastic festival, called the Detroit Cantastoria Festival Friday and Saturday nights at St. Peter’s Church in Corktown.

 

Next month I’m playing fiddle and banjo in Erin Zindle‘s Big Holiday Show at The Ark in Ann Arbor, Dec 10-11 and a livestream on the 18th.

 

Jan 16 I have a solo concert at the Stone Chalet in Ann Arbor, with piano accompaniment from Cameron Celestia, in person and livestreamed. More info coming soon!

 

In February the Corn Potato String Band reunites for our first tour in Michigan in years! Confirmed dates include:
– Feb 2 at the Robin Theater in Lansing (with workshops at Elderly Instruments on the 2nd and 3rd)
– A concert and square dance at the Big Rapids Festival of the Arts, Feb 4-5
– Feb 6 at Creative 360, Midland, MI
– Feb 10 at The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI – Tickets available here

 

In March the Lovestruck Balladeers reunite for a tour up the east coast! Confirmed dates include:

 

– March 5 in Aiken, SC, for Joye in Aiken Festival

 

And it looks like we will try for a third time to do the big UK tour that was planned for 2020. More on that later, but I am confirmed for Edinburgh Trad Fest, Fire in the Mountain in Wales, the Ulster American Folk Park Bluegrass Festival, Crossover Festival in Shrewsbury, and a teaching gig at the BMG Summer Music School.
 
New Videos on YouTube
– Here’s the link to subscribe to my YouTube channel — I’m only 100 subscribers away from being able to make fractions of a penny per view! One click, easy!
– Here’s my Ragtime Banjo Revival presentation from the Banjo Gathering.
– Here’s the newest episode of Tunes from the Bag, in which I play Sally Ann.
– Here’s a nearly two-and-a-half-hour-long interview I did a few months ago for Mountain Bushcrafters Alliance including some pickin and sangin.
– Here’s a full concert I played in a library a couple years ago that was recently uploaded.

 

Patreon Is Still Cool
Yes, Patreon continues to be a place where I share special content that I don’t share anywhere else. I also like how it allows for close contact, for example, any questions or requests. Try it! I bet you’ll like it.

 

Book Report
I spent a long time reading Rusty Brown, by Chris Ware, and it was time well spent. Ware makes use of the graphic novel form in ways I couldn’t have imagined before reading this. It’s a big book and it covers a wide range of human experience. I’m not enough of a literary person to be able to tell you clearly why this book is so amazing. All I can say is that I recommend it very highly. If you can get a copy I highly doubt you’ll regret reading it.

 

The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin, was recommended to me very highly by someone close to me. I used to read a lot of science fiction when I was in middle school but it’s been a while for me, and I’d never read Le Guin before. This is such a good read on so many levels. Her ideas about the future are so right on, it’s hard to believe this book was first published in 1974.

 

Le Guin uses the science fiction genre so well, in that she gives us other possible worlds to consider, worlds that are so distant, yet within the realm of imagination.  Honestly this book didn’t really start to hit for me until about halfway through but when it did start to hit it hit hard. I’m sure there’s something for just about everyone in this book and would recommend with the disclaimer that it’s a bit slow going at first.

 

Thank You, That’s All for Now
Stay in touch yall, I hope to see you again soon. Stay warm!

 

 

Aaron

 

 

Ragtime Banjo Revival – An ambitious recording project including original arrangements of ragtime pieces by several composers from the ragtime era (late 19th-early 20th century), some written for banjo and some I adapted for banjo from piano music (e.g. Scott Joplin and James Scott pieces), and employing up to 28 or more local musicians.

 

Most of the selections are classic or novelty ragtime pieces from US composers. I also include some classical pieces from the same time period from European composers, and a ragtime piece from an English banjo virtuoso written in 1948, long after the Golden Age of Ragtime had ended. I’m excited to share the stories connecting these pieces as well (e.g. Russian Rag is an interpolation of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude). This music has prompted an interest in history I’ve never felt before, and I feel compelled to share.

 

I’ve been playing banjo for about twenty years and only started playing this now-obscure style called ‘classic banjo’ a few years ago. If I could only tell you one thing  about this style it’s this: 100 years ago it was the most popular sort of music in the English-speaking world, and today it is all but forgotten. This music has its roots in African-American music that was appropriated for minstrel shows and mingled with other popular styles of European and distinctly American origin. It gave rise to ragtime, which fed into the development of jazz, etc.

 

My most recent release was my first album of classic banjo music, focusing on a single composer, using mostly that composer’s arrangements. (Free streaming here and let me know if you’d like the extensive liner notes, I’ll send you a free download.) For this next project I’m looking to broaden the sound and represent several different ragtime composers, and as it turns out it will be my most ambitious project as I am working with more musicians than I ever have before. I’ve written four string quartet arrangements, I’m rehearsing with a pipe organist, I have two pieces for ten-piece brass band, five for small ragtime band (banjo, uke, cello, guitar, piano, and I hope to add percussion on some pieces). I also plan to record a few with piano and banjo only, and one piece with banjo, piano, and foot percussion.

 

I don’t have a set release schedule for any of this, and I’m not 100% sure if I’m going for a full-length album, a series of EP type releases or a series of singles or what. At this point all I know if I have a lot of material I want to record, and I’m excited to include a lot of different musicians.

 

My primary interest and challenge in this project (aside from musical and logistical concerns) is finding ways to make a near-dead form of music compelling and engaging in an environment where it seems like most people regard any activity involving history or looking to the past as out-of-touch or moving backward. For me this music provides a missing link in our shared cultural history. It opens doors to discussion and understanding of how we got to where we are now. In my mind, at least, I hope this experience brings people closer to understanding and accepting the racism and patriarchal colonialism that got us to where we are now, like in a gentle and entertaining way, so we can start to move forward together.

 

My initial rough budget came out to $50k for all expenses (except for studio costs because at the time I thought we’d have access to a space at no cost but that fell through) including paying all the musicians, recording, mixing, mastering, artwork and photos, manufacturing, video production (up to four separate videos), and promotion and publicity. I’m not prepared to do crowdfunding so I’m looking for private donors who may be willing to contribute $10-45k.

 

Here are some performance clips: