View Full Version : "The Banjo Project" - A forthcoming film.

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-06-2011, 2:40am
For those of us who play the 'other' Bluegrass instrument,there's a forthcoming film being made about the history of the Banjo,namely "The Banjo Project" - see link :-
I only found out about this film yesterday,but it seems as though it will be the 'definitive' documentary about the history of the Banjo & it's use in a variety of music.
My appologies if i've offended the sensibilities of the 'Banjo muggers' on here,:grin:

Feb-06-2011, 2:43am
Let the games begin! :grin:

If it's well-done and fully explores the instrument's usefulness and capabilities, it may earn an Oscar nomination - in the documentary short category! :disbelief:

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-06-2011, 3:18am
Banjo mugger #1 weighs in with the first shot across the Banjo bows. I'll get you at playtime,see if i don't !!,:grin:

Feb-06-2011, 8:10am
I kid because I care. And you were asking for it. Wouldn't want you to feel neglected. ;)

Dang! Where's that banjosmiley? This will have to do for now. http://www.easyfreesmileys.com/smileys/violin-052.gif (http://www.easyfreesmileys.com/facebook-smileys.html)

Jason Kessler
Feb-06-2011, 1:54pm
For those (well, Ivan anyway) interested, there was a film released a couple of years ago called "Throw Down Your Heart," in which Bela Fleck goes back to Africa to find the roots of the banjo, and plays with some indigenous musicians.

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-07-2011, 2:03am
Hi Jason - thanks for that piece of info. i hadn't heard of the film. JB- I never feel neglected with you around to dig me in the ribs,

Feb-07-2011, 2:16am
Well, what are friends for? :) Besides, someone had to say something! I'm surprised your post hasn't received the usual jibes anything banjo-related usually gets. People's attentions must be elsewhere.

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-08-2011, 1:56am
JB - The folk on here are far too polite to slag off a poor old Limey Banjer picker (well so far !),

Feb-08-2011, 8:19am
Disappointing, eh? Maybe that routine has run its course. Hard to believe, isnt it? :)

Naturally, I can't help wondering whether some similar movie will ever be made about the mandolin. :mandosmiley:

Feb-08-2011, 11:28am
Who's it by, Ken Burns ?

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-09-2011, 3:38am
Seriously - It might be hoped that a film could be made of the Mandolin tradition in the USA,although i don't think it has as much going for it 'historically' as the Banjo.
Maybe a form of Mandolin 'documentary' film could be put together with some of the great players around giving interviews & performances etc.,i'd go for it & i suspect so would many others.
With the Banjo,i think that with it's emergence as a 'main' Bluegrass instrument,folk have taken a close look at it's history & made the discovery that it's an instrument of great significance in American music & worth making a film about. I'd hope that even the most jaded Banjo basher would appreciate one simple fact,the Banjo in it's current form, is America's national instrument,& a gift to the rest of us out side the USA,something which i've spent 48 years of my life celebrating,

Feb-09-2011, 9:18am
I saw somewhere recently the Appalachian dulcimer being touted as the only instrument that originated in America, as all others have been adapted from imports. I don't know how true that is (I suspect writer's bias), but I daresay it would not qualify as America's gift to the world in this sense. Much as I understand your affectionate regard for the banjo - and surely a case can be made for something along smiilar lines for the Gibson-redesigned mandolin - America's national instrument and chief instrumental export must be the electric guitar. Its impact on music as we know it is immeasurable, and its presence is pervasive.

Which is not to say the banjo is not deserving of its place in historical and musical terms. It has definitely had an impact, and was probably the top stringed instrument in America for a good long while for much of the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century. It's only been fairly recently that it has been relegated to bluegrass and country, despite Bela Fleck's efforts to broaden its possibilities. It got a big bump in popularity from being used in "The Beverly Hillbillies" and then later "Deliverance," though that may also have helped define its usage for the general public. As with any instrument, it is possible to do more with it than is considered customary. Bela has proven that, but somehow it seems few if any others have been inspired by his example to push the envelope for it. With the mandolin, David Grisman's innovations have led to wider applications for the instrument by other musicians.

OK, time for some more coffee. ~o)

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-10-2011, 1:14am
JB - Stylistically 'pre.Bela' we've had Scruggs (of course) / Don Reno / Eddie Addcock / Biil Keith / Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandel / Roger Sprung & Pat Cloud. We still have great Banjo innovators such as my all-time favourlite Scott Vestal,Bela is still going of course & there are shed loads of other great pickers to choose from.
I understand completely your reference to the Electric Guitar - Lloyd Loar is credited with having first developed the hollow bodied electric Guitar whilst working for Gibson in the 1920's. But,the Guitar as an instrument wasn't an American 'invention' & the electric Guitar was merely a 'development'.To qualify as the American National Instrument,it has to be a wholly American design,& i know that it's splitting hairs,but that's how the Banjo is seen. The original instrument from which the 'American' Banjo was developed,wasn't 5-string or fretted,these were only added after the instrument was brought to the USA & so it's seen rightly or wrongly (dependent upon your point of view), as a 'true' American instrument.
Whatever our personal points of view are,personally, i can only applaud the makers of the forthcoming film. If it were a film of the origins & the development of most other stringed instruments,my feelings would be much the same,

Andy Alexander
Feb-12-2011, 2:44pm
Years ago, Tony Triscka toured with a show he called "World Turning" where he played different banjos and banjo music from it's beginnings as a black slave intrument through the minstral, classical, old time, jazz, bluegrass, and finally the progressive contemporary era. It was a one man show with a narrator. Great history of the 5-string banjo.

Feb-12-2011, 7:38pm
I'm no Tony Trishka, and I don't tour with a banjo performance. But I do use banjos extensively in various projects and public performance. For solo performing, the banjo is an extremely functional musical tool: it has volume, versatility, and history/cultural relevance. I usually start with old-time folk music on 5-string--dances, rags, breakdowns, and songs. In the course of talking about the banjo--its history and evolution--I switch to a tenor and play/sing standards from the early 20th C. I used to want a gourd banjo to use in this progression, but a run-of-the-mill modern open back banjo does a wonderful job with early, modal, rural repertoires. If I had more arms, I'd schlep also a fretless, a plectrum, a resonator 5-string, and a banjo-uke.

The banjo is often considered the only indigenous instrument to the U.S.

Feb-12-2011, 11:25pm
The histories of the banjo and this country are indeed intertwined, and a musicological/historical presentation exploring this interrelation could practically write itself, and be interpreted in a great many ways. From the plantations to the Wild West to the birth of jazz to the rise swing and big bands to the development of bluegrass and country music to the folk music boom, the banjo has been an integral part of the soundtrack of America. As much as it gets a lot of ribbing around here, more than is necessary even if usually in good fun, there is little doubt that banjos and mandolins and their players have spent a lot of time together and shared much along their paths.

As much as it has origins in Africa, what we know today as the banjo is indeed very much an American invention. Despite the assertion I mentioned earlier about the Appalachian dulcimer being the only truly indigenous American instrument (not my opinion, though I am not well-versed enough in the area to disagree) and my contention that the electric guitar deserves consideration for inclusion in this very small group (by virtue of it being so vastly transformed from its acoustic counterpart), the modern banjo is a truly American instrument.

Loretta Callahan
Feb-13-2011, 2:14am
This is great. Looks like Bela started something big! The origin of the banjo is West Africa, as folks have correctly mentioned here.:grin: Just as the ukulele's roots are Portuguese and European, it's modern day incarnation is mostly associated with Hawaiian music.

I love how Sam Bush honors the banjo's African roots in his version of Old Joe Clark, where he sings about his Joe Clark as arriving with a banjo, but not on his knee.

I'm the ED for a documentary film company here in Portland, OR and I'm continually amazed by the quality and quantity of great documentaries coming out these days. I'm always extra happy to see docs on music.

Some folks might be interested in one of our colleagues films in process about the Carter Family and, of course, country music The Winding Stream (http://thewindingstream.com/)

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-13-2011, 2:22am
AndyA - I have TT's CD "World Turning" from which the show was developed - well worth having to hear a few of the 'styles' & instruments along the Banjo's path to it's current form & playing styles. One of my favourites is called "Ladies of Refinement". It would sound terrific played on Mandolin - very ''Victorian'' era,

Feb-13-2011, 3:08am
Speaking of doc films, I recently saw Flecks's "Throw Down Your Heart." If you're interested in ethnomusicology, banjo, and indigenous African music, I'm sure you will find this film interesting.

I've long been interested in African music forms -- by way of John Chernoff's studies (in Zaire, if I recall) on the subject (if I recall, Chernoff later went on to work with David Byrne, and presumably was of tremendous influence on Byrne's ethnic orientation in writing and performing), and others. So something like Fleck's ostensibly humble approach to collaborating with traditional musicians of Uganda and Tanzania, and the later meeting of the American bluegrass banjo with the players in West Africa, is highly compelling. I was captivated several times in the film, and observed the thin and nasally sound of a modern BG banjo next to the corporeal tone of the akonting and ngoni--the West African "banjos"--and the African musical aesthetic. It appeared that both were three-stringed instruments played mostly in what we would call a rapping, downstroke, frailing style with thumb fifth-string. This style of banjo is one of my favorite styles to play and listen--it exploits the primal, rhythmic/dance element that I love in trad forms. But I do like my Earl and Bela too--my first banjo pleasures as a youth.

Particularly compelling is the music and playing of Anania Ngoliga of Tanzania, the ngoni player in Mali, and Oumou Sangare. I saw Ms. Sangare in Boulder about 10 years ago. Pretty great.