Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Wednesday, December 27, 2006

More on Steve and banjo

This has some different info than the Trischka article published earlier

The New York Times
December 17, 2006 Sunday
Late Edition - Final
Section 14NJ; Column 1; New Jersey Weekly Desk; Pg. 12
Five-String Sensation

LEGENDARY musicians are supposed to make their pyrotechnics look easy: deftness and effortlessness, or at least the appearance of it, go hand in hand. But the banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka, who has lived on an unassuming street here since 1989, has a way of making his humble instrument seem a little too easy.

''I can teach anybody to play banjo in an hour. Anybody can do it,'' said Mr. Trischka, 57, who taught the jazz-leaning innovator Bela Fleck in the 1980s and finger-picks alongside modern masters including Earl Scruggs and Alison Brown on ''Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular'' (Rounder Records), his 16th album, to be released next month.

Seated in his living room this month, in front of several gleaming instruments and a psychedelic framed poster of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, Mr. Trischka -- tall, kind-eyed and completely disarming -- seems as mismatched with his lofty reputation as bluegrass would be with hip-hop.

''I guess I'd call myself a guy who broke down some boundaries for the banjo,'' he said, shrugging.

That is an understatement; in fiddle- and fret-conscious circles from Nashville to Groton, Mass., where he still teaches sometimes at the annual Banjo Camp conference, he is known as the father of modern bluegrass.

''It's impossible to imagine what contemporary banjo music would be like today if Tony hadn't blazed a path for all of us,'' said Ms. Brown, who won a Grammy Award in 2000 for best instrumental country performance and operates the Nashville-based bluegrass label Compass Records.

Mr. Trischka's determined march away from traditional bluegrass started with his first solo album, ''Bluegrass Light'' (Rounder), in 1973. Most players ambitious enough to pick up a banjo in those days buried themselves in the finger work of back-country heroes like Mr. Monroe and Mr. Scruggs, now in his 80s. Mr. Trischka experimented, drawing on the music he listened to as a child in Syracuse. It included folk artists like Tom Paxton, jazz masters like Fats Waller and pop idols like the Beatles.

'' 'Strawberry Fields' is still probably my favorite tune,'' Mr. Trischka said. But he might never have found his calling if it weren't for the Kingston Trio's 1959 hit ''M.T.A.''

''There was a banjo break with just 16 notes in it in that song, a little part of it, but that was it for me,'' he said. ''It ruined me. I had to play just like that.''

As it turned out, he did not play just like that. After moving to Manhattan in the 1970s, he pioneered a plugged-in style of his own, one accomplished enough to earn him the respect of the old guard but hip enough to win him collaborations with partners including the novelist William Burroughs and the '80s punk band Violent Femmes.

''I'm an old hippie,'' Mr. Trischka explained. ''We're all sort of in the same crevasse.''

Still, even old hippies can't be expected to walk the cutting edge all the time.

That explains ''Double Banjo Bluegrass,'' the latest of a few returns to traditional bluegrass in Mr. Trischka's long career. Friends including Mr. Fleck and Mr. Scruggs visited studios in Nashville and Manhattan to record original and traditional songs for the CD. But it was Mr. Trischka's experience recording with the actor and comedian Steve Martin, also an accomplished picker, that sticks with him most.

''He wasn't funny at all,'' Mr. Trischka said. ''He was completely straight -- this great friendly guy.''

The session took place last year at Mr. Martin's apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and whatever it lacked in comedy, it made up for in celebrity shoulder-rubbing.

''Paul Simon came over, and he wanted to play some songs off his new record,'' Mr. Trischka said. ''At one point, Steve Martin left the room, and I was there with Paul Simon.''

At that moment, Mr. Trischka sensed Mr. Simon's interest in his banjo. He offered him the 45-second version of his hourlong tutorial.

''He picked it up and played an open chord. I told him, 'You look good in a banjo.'

''That was pretty cool,'' Mr. Trischka said.


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