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Thread: Pre-Monroe mandolin in American old-time

  1. #26
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pre-Monroe mandolin in American old-time

    It seems to me that theres a jump when two things happen: bill develops the chop, and Scruggs joins the blue grass boys a. This is not to disparage nor diminish Lester flatt, bill Keith or the rest of them, but those at least to me are the major defining features.

    If we could work out where that chop came from (and were guitarists doing that yet?) we might be able to find out who the influences were.
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  3. #27

    Default Re: Pre-Monroe mandolin in American old-time

    Quote Originally Posted by David Lewis View Post
    ... If we could work out where that chop came from (and were guitarists doing that yet?) we might be able to find out who the influences were.
    Good point.

    I don't know the answer, but wasn't there a Dixieland-jazz banjo equivalent of the chop chord in the 1920s or so?

    FWIW, I found the following mandolin-related quote at (of all the unlikely places) TheSession, in a discussion about mandolin chop chords:

    "Fifth interval tuning was what made the tenor banjo so useful in dixieland jazz - its harsh chords could easily cut through a front row of trumpets saxes and clarinets.

    "The mandolin's chords have the same characteristics."

    Of course, that's not exactly a bluegrass website being quoted there, so who knows... that's just what turned up in 20 seconds of Googling. Other writers at that site then proceeded to get into interesting technicalities of exactly which type of banjo was used - "plectrum banjo" vs the shorter scale "tenor banjo" - but I'd say that whichever it was, it could have been an influential factor in Bill Monroe's decisions as to how to play that mandolin.

    As to when guitars got in on the action, I have no idea but wasn't Django Reinhardt using something similar in the 1930s? I know almost zero about jazz history though... I would presume/guess that, for the larger louder jazz ensembles with all those noisy horns etc, guitars wouldn't have stood a chance of being heard without some sort of electric pickup, if that helps to date the adoption of guitars over banjos...

    Are there any jazz experts reading this thread who can provide a timeline to help answer the other poster's question about when guitars started doing the equivalent of chop chords?


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    (I suppose it's likely that this has already been discussed and answered sometime/somewhere else in the history of the internet, but I am not aware of where those answers are. Enlightenment welcome.)

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  5. #28
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pre-Monroe mandolin in American old-time

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    Good point.

    I don't know the answer, but wasn't there a Dixieland-jazz banjo equivalent of the chop chord in the 1920s or so?

    FWIW, I found the following mandolin-related quote at (of all the unlikely places) TheSession, in a discussion about mandolin chop chords:

    "Fifth interval tuning was what made the tenor banjo so useful in dixieland jazz - its harsh chords could easily cut through a front row of trumpets saxes and clarinets.

    "The mandolin's chords have the same characteristics."

    Of course, that's not exactly a bluegrass website being quoted there, so who knows... that's just what turned up in 20 seconds of Googling. Other writers at that site then proceeded to get into interesting technicalities of exactly which type of banjo was used - "plectrum banjo" vs the shorter scale "tenor banjo" - but I'd say that whichever it was, it could have been an influential factor in Bill Monroe's decisions as to how to play that mandolin.

    As to when guitars got in on the action, I have no idea but wasn't Django Reinhardt using something similar in the 1930s? I know almost zero about jazz history though... I would presume/guess that, for the larger louder jazz ensembles with all those noisy horns etc, guitars wouldn't have stood a chance of being heard without some sort of electric pickup, if that helps to date the adoption of guitars over banjos...

    Are there any jazz experts reading this thread who can provide a timeline to help answer the other poster's question about when guitars started doing the equivalent of chop chords?


    -------
    (I suppose it's likely that this has already been discussed and answered sometime/somewhere else in the history of the internet, but I am not aware of where those answers are. Enlightenment welcome.)

    Django used the 'pomp', which might be where Bill got it from, actually. But you're right about the banjo. It might have been a tenor banjo technique too...
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  7. #29
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Pre-Monroe mandolin in American old-time

    I doubt very much that Bill got the "chop" from listening to Django! Bill did it his own way.
    If you go back and listen to the Monroe Brothers (on the Bluebird label) you can hear the beginnings of the chop. Bill and Charley were playing fast and furious with bill playing a lot of lead. But you can hear the "chop" in short spurts.
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  9. #30
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pre-Monroe mandolin in American old-time

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    I doubt very much that Bill got the "chop" from listening to Django! Bill did it his own way.
    If you go back and listen to the Monroe Brothers (on the Bluebird label) you can hear the beginnings of the chop. Bill and Charley were playing fast and furious with bill playing a lot of lead. But you can hear the "chop" in short spurts.
    I did say 'might'.. I don't know. And the chop develops over years. It may be that Bill liked snare drums.... And playing fast would lead to a chop - as you say - jangle jangle strumming would mess up a duo pretty bad. So it's possible that it's ALL Bill, no fill from anywhere else...

    It's a fascinating conundrum.
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  10. #31
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pre-Monroe mandolin in American old-time

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    ...Bill did it his own way. If you go back and listen to the Monroe Brothers (on the Bluebird label) you can hear the beginnings of the chop. Bill and Charley were playing fast and furious with bill playing a lot of lead. But you can hear the "chop" in short spurts.
    Just listened to five or six up-tempo Monroe Brothers cuts on YouTube, and have to say I don't hear anything that sounds like an off-beat mandolin "chop." I hear a continuous mandolin figure behind the vocals, not following the melody, but providing a stream of notes that pushes the tune along. There are a few little "choppy" accents at the end of lines, but nothing like the metronomic "chop" with which we're familiar.

    Here's Katy Hill, recorded by Monroe with the Blue Grass Boys in 1940 (pre-Flatt, Scruggs et.al.), a really up-tempo Tommy Magness fiddle show-off. I detect no "chop" at all, and the mandolin's either not being played, or mixed so far back it hardly contributes:



    And here's Goodbye Old Pal, recorded in 1945, again pre-Flatt & Scruggs, Dave "Stringbean" Akeman on banjo, Chubby Wise on fiddle, "Tex" Willis on guitar. I hear what may be the beginnings of a "chop," mixed pretty far back, so this could be when Monroe was developing that approach. What I mainly hear is an "up-and-down" rhythmic strum, not the heavy downstroke on the offbeat.



    My theory, for what it's worth (2?) is that as Monroe added stronger and stronger lead instruments to the Blue Grass Boys, especially Scruggs' banjo -- and as he found himself with a "revolving door" band in the '50's, with musicians coming and going, often to start their own bands -- he became more concerned with controlling the tempo in performance. His quoted compliments about sidemen (when he offered them) often said that So-and-So had "good time," by which he meant ability to keep the rhythm and follow Monroe's lead. The times I saw the Blue Grass Boys in performance with lesser-known band members, I could sense Monroe bearing down hard on the "chop" to keep the band together.

    This is just a personal perspective, but it might be instructive (or not) to listen to a few dozen Blue Grass Boys recordings from the '40's, and determine at what point Monroe's "chop" became more prominent. I'm not volunteering, though.
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