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Thread: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monroe?

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    [B][U][URL="http://www.mandoisland.com/?p=3017"] There were other Italian plyers in New York who were not named Giovanni.
    Yes, some were named John. And even Juan.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Someone at that "traditionalist old-time session" was making up his own traditions, without doing his homework.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Not everyone gets "more happy" (sic) when the bass joins in. The guitar can handle rhythm just fine, since that's the guitar's job. Besides, who in right mind would describe Riley Puckett's playing as "extra luscious?"

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    There were many "old time" or "hillbilly," and ragtime and blues players in the States before Bill and influencing Bill. That's not even getting into other countries.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    1. Did a bit of internet looking up a few years ago, for a Cafe thread, and found mention of mandolin being taught in the pre-Revolution colonies, by a Spanish music teacher, and a letter from South Carolina in Civil War times, mentioning taking a mandolin to a picnic to observe the shelling of forts in Charleston harbor. The instrument was around, probably in very limited numbers, before the Spanish Students concert and Italian immigration put it "center stage" in the US.

    2. Those who question the role of mandolin in old-time music, in the past or the present, have to listen to the late Kenny Hall -- yes you do...

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Interesting thread--thanks. I've spent lots of time playing at fiddler's conventions in North Carolina and Virginia over the last 20 years and I'd like to say I don't find the "rules" about mandolin (or bass) in oldtime to be nearly as rigid as they are sometimes described. If you can pick, know the oldtime melodies and good backup techniques (open chords, double stops, and yes, even chop chords), and can use your ears you're a welcome addition to oldtime jamming here.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    double post. These zombie threads!
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by abalter View Post
    Was there any sort of tradition or history of mandolin playing in American, Brittish, or Celtic folk music prior to Bill Monroe and bluegrass?
    Bill Monroe himself even played mandolin before Bill Monroe played bluegrass mandolin. As a youngster in the teens and early '20s he was given the mandolin to play because his older brothers were already playing the guitar and fiddle

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by sgarrity View Post
    For anyone that says an F5 mando doesn’t belong in old time, point them to Caleb Klauder and the Fog Horn Stringband or Mike Compton’s playing with John Hartford.
    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    I've read the whole thread.

    My one question back - and it has been touched upon - what about the Italians that brought their invention, the mandolin, to America and played Italian folk traditional music on it before even the boom of mandolin orchestras, American folk mandolin, etc.?

    Plus there was a lot of mention of mandolins in New Orleans between 1880-1910 or so, as being used in "string bands", which in that context meant indoor groups w/o brass.

    There are a number of folk mandolin traditions in America.

    http://www.offbeat.com/articles/new-...f-the-century/

    "There were three main types of ensemble performing around New Orleans from the 1880s to 1917: brass bands (for funerals), society orchestras and string bands. Being smaller and in demand in more diverse settings, the string ensembles had more flexibility and were expected to entertain with up-to-date songs and dancing music.

    ...

    The string bands that performed at Anderson’s Annex potentially had some of the most important traits of the new music that would come to be called jazz: a swinging rhythm built on the bass’ harmonic foundation; sophisticated soloists mixing virtuoso technical ability; Eurocentric harmonies and forms (and probably a Latin lilt to boot), with syncopated rhythms (giving an element of surprise); personal expression; and individual and collective improvisation, within the repetitive forms of up-to- date pop songs, including blues."




    TWO bowlbacks! In the only city in America with a Sicilian majority in its Italian community - which is now one of the largest ethnic groups in New Orleans.

    from a pre-Katrina WIKI:

    "New Orleans has a historical Italian-American population. As of 2004 those identifying as of Italian descent were the largest ethnic group of Europeans in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area, numbering around 250,000"
    Tampa had a Sicilian majority in its Italian community as well. The Sicilians originally came to central Florida to work on the sugar cane plantations, but many moved from there to the cigar factories in Tampa and the thriving communities connected to them, ybor city and west tampa, and joined the cubans and spanish working there. Ybor City had it's own newspaper, printed in three languages. I have heard that the tradition of sicilian folk music was continued there, but it was not documented that I know of, and had either disappeared or become very obscure by the 1950s.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    I think y´all should ask your elders. Who has (had) a parent/grandparent/greatgrandparent that was active (a schoolkid) in the 20ies and 30ies... All of you know, that there was a lot of folk and whatnot mandolin music out there.

    My dad was a kid in a oneroom schoolhouse (somewhat near Berlin). His teacher (Lehrer Wegener - who died the Ira Hayes death walking home inebriated) asked the class who wanted to play mandolin. My dad certainly raised his finger (as would have my son). Can you imagine what my grandpa said and did when my father - unbeknownst to my grandparents - came home with a plinka di plunk... mandolin... But there was a lot of folk and other kind of mandolin music around....
    Olaf

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post
    I think y´all should ask your elders. Who has (had) a parent/grandparent/greatgrandparent that was active (a schoolkid) in the 20ies and 30ies... All of you know, that there was a lot of folk and whatnot mandolin music out there.

    My dad was a kid in a oneroom schoolhouse (somewhat near Berlin). His teacher (Lehrer Wegener - who died the Ira Hayes death walking home inebriated) asked the class who wanted to play mandolin. My dad certainly raised his finger (as would have my son). Can you imagine what my grandpa said and did when my father - unbeknownst to my grandparents - came home with a plinka di plunk... mandolin... But there was a lot of folk and other kind of mandolin music around....
    Sounds familiar, Olaf. My dad's old man played folk songs and other music on the accordion, guitar and mandolin (a tater bug, I happened to find in my dad's closet in the late '60s). Right after WWI (but even before) there was a lot of reinventing of older pastimes going on, such as singing/playing folk songs, hiking (while picking) and even reimagining baroque music (and instrument) styles. It was generally part of the so called German Youth Movement.
    And yes, there was plenty of folk mandolin in the US before Monroe; check this out: https://www.mandolincafe.com/archives/article.html

    After his days with his brother Charlie, Bill Monroe did not set out to play just another type of folk music. His music, especially the driving rhythm and the role of the mandolin, defined a whole new approach of country music, meant as, well pop music, as in popular, up-to-date music, which was to be played in concert settings rather than around barns and campfires. Robert Cantwell (The Making of the Southern Sound) is a fine read in this context.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Always a good time to put in a plug for our great friend Sheri's "Mandolins, Like Salami".

    A great book, one every mandolin player should read.

    Is the Italian / Italian-American tradition of 'ballo liscio' music that Sheri has so tirelessly preserved and compiled really 'folk' music, since so much of it was composed?

    Or are the 'traditional' tunes like those collected in John La Barbara's volumes more representative of "Italian Folk"?

    That type of question is far over my head.
    I'll leave that debate to others, but I would find the discussion interesting.

    I just enjoy playing the music whatever it is called.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Mandolins were around on both sides of my family. I have some of my paternal grandfather's mandolin books from the first decade of the 20th century. My maternal grandfather's second wife, Alice, left two of her mandolins in Grandfather's attic, where I inherited them in the late 1960's. I still have her B & J Victoria bowl-back; I learned on the Gibson A-1, before it went in trade for an F-2 ±50 years ago.

    What music did they play on them? In the first case, tunes composed for turn-of-the-20th-century mandolin clubs and orchestras; written in standard notation, with 1st and 2nd mandolin parts. As to what Alice played, no way to know; she died when I was very young, and Grandfather never talked about her music.

    As far as I know, I'm the first "generation" to get into traditional folk music, so no indication that my "forebears" played in that style. But we should remember that folk musicians tended to pick up whatever instruments were available to play. We think of fiddle and Appalachian dulcimer in the 18th century, both instruments brought over from Europe. The African-origin banjo shows up in the 19th century, as do the Mediterranean guitar and mandolin. Free-reed instruments like accordion and harmonica are 19th-century inventions, soon adapted to folk styles; similarly, the Autoharp. Orchestral instruments like 'cello and bass viol appear infrequently, the latter becoming much more common mid-20th-century, in string band ensembles.

    One of the interesting facets of traditional folk music in America, is the scarcity of wind instruments, other than free-reeds like accordion and harmonica. Other traditions make frequent use of brasses and woodwinds; look at mariachi music, for example, or klezmer. Celtic traditional music as played in the US frequently incorporates flute and whistle, and I think of Fishing Blues and "Ragtime Texas" Thomas on pan-pipes, though he was close to "one of a kind."

    Similarly with percussion: bodhran for Irish musicians, spoons and tambourine from the minstrel stage worked into old-time and gospel, but seldom the fuller percussion found in other non-American traditional styles, African or European. Our traditional music is basically string music, plucked or bowed, on a wide variety of instruments of different origins. In that tradition, mandolin occupies a part, not as central as fiddle, banjo and guitar, but significant.
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    My grandfather played mandolin long before bluegrass was a thing. So yeah it was around before then.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Two weekends ago I found a nice old Bauer bowlback at an estate sale that appears to be in sound structural shape and , I hope, will be playable with a new tail piece and some ultra light strings, both of which I have acquired. Unfortunately I have also acquired a painful hip injury that has made even walking a tedious adventure. A trip out to the shop and my work bench and tools will have to wait.
    But I have found time to go through many old threads/topics on the forum including this one. Love the old picture from New Orleans of the four dapper gents and their instruments. How is it that two of them are playing what certainly appear to be Italian style bowlback mandolins in an African American quartet? Must have been some cultural interaction going on there. And that guitar on the far left. A very early double neck. Is that a mini bass perhaps? I guess Gibson didn't invent that double neck concept and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) wasn't the first to make it famous!
    Also love the discussion about what we, individually, consider folk music. I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY where there is a very strong Italian heritage. Many friends grew up in homes with three generations under one roof. A couple of them can still understand, and speak some Italian because the grandparents spoke it at home. Their idea of oldtime or folk music meant music from the old country, Italy or Sicily, where the mandolin was certainly a dominant folk instrument.. So I guess those terms are really relevant to ones culture. Another part of my cultural enrichment was real Italian food made by a real Nona in the kitchen. To not eat her cooking was considered a mild insult so I always ate!
    And lastly one question. Just what was a Bogtrotter? I know I could find it on the Internet but that wouldn't bring about some insight from our knowledgeable group here.
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    I think the real take away here is to always respect the jam. Even if it is not historically accurate, or not traditional enough, even if it is some weird hybrid of old time and bluegrass and traditional Irish, even if it is ultra orthodox where folks are announcing before hand the tune they are playing and who they learned it from and in whose tradition it is being played, even if it is primarily contra dance music you have played a million times...

    Historians and ethnomusicologists and others can discuss afterwards what kind of music was being attempted and in what genre folks were trying to play. But in the moment, listen long and join when and as appropriate and lead when others give you the nod.
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Gnann View Post
    T
    And lastly one question. Just what was a Bogtrotter? I know I could find it on the Internet but that wouldn't bring about some insight from our knowledgeable group here.
    It's an ethnic slur, meaning an Irish person. Don't use it unless you're Irish -- real Irish that is, not North American "Irish."
    Last edited by Ranald; Jul-28-2021 at 6:56pm.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Gnann View Post
    Love the old picture from New Orleans of the four dapper gents and their instruments. How is it that two of them are playing what certainly appear to be Italian style bowlback mandolins in an African American quartet? Must have been some cultural interaction going on there. And that guitar on the far left. A very early double neck. Is that a mini bass perhaps? I guess Gibson didn't invent that double neck concept and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) wasn't the first to make it famous!
    I am sure there was lots of cultural interraction between different ethnic groups in New Orleans but it is also likely that those bowlbacks were made in the US and were the prominent affordable mandolin style sold at that time.

    As for the "double-neck": it is a harp guitar, essentially a standard six string with (in this case) 4 sub-bass strings. The basses are just plucked (like a harp) and not fretted. For tones of infon on this instrument, go to https://www.harpguitars.net/, Gregg Miner's excellent site.
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