Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

It's easy to see Rice's arrangements as being idiosyncratic by nature, because they sometimes differ radically from what Briggs or Converse, say, might have played. I think most of us see Briggs as representing a simple, pure "banjo style". I know I used to. And it certainly is a great place to start. But what if Briggs was just as idiosyncratic as Rice?

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Looking over all that was left us, the Rice work stands apart. I see it in Christy's, but nowhere else.

I look to the Analytical to provide the Eagle Eye view of the period. I believe ( not proving of course ) that the banjo style pieces in there are very representative of that period.....the earlier period. That seems to have closer links to the Briggs', but takes it to another level.

My personal taste in banjo music is for the earliest material when it was still flavored with Africa and the Caribbean, when it was still funky and utterly Early American. I start to lose interest with Converse -it is becoming too European and classical for my banjo interests. But to each his own. Why do you think a book published in 1886 is representative and an eagle eye of the early banjo period? To my ear, it's apples and oranges.

He was there in the beginning....and the end. The way he arranged the material was right in line with the earliest stuff. That is why it is the eagle eye view. Perspective.

What are you referring to with African and Caribbean flavors? The earliest stuff seemed to the be the largest borrowers of European melody.

Also Frank Converse wrote the Briggs' Banjo Instructor, and mostly likely had involvement in the Rice book... So, that would be "Converse" too.

The ABM really captures variations.  "Rolls" and strings of triplets, 16th-8th-16th Habanera rhythm (more on that later), based on melodies that we have seen in early books.

I feel that the stroke style pieces in the ABM represent what Converse wanted to publish earlier.

Converse was not there in the beginning. How can Converse be an eagle eye to Joe Sweeney or to any of the earliest stuff like Coal Black Rose? I understand that many of the melody's for minstrel stage material were European in origin. But a melody is a melody is a melody. What defines a musical genre is never really melody, it's rhythmic inflection. And this is not always legible in Western notation. Think of the swing in eighth notes that is played in most Black influenced types of music - it is not notated as such, the musician is supposed to feel the groove. Unless this whole thing was one big marketing sham, (which becomes more possible after 1843), then the earliest stuff must have still been played with some sense of African and Caribbean flavorings. Dena Epstein's book, as one example, thoroughly documents the influence of the Caribbean and acculturation of African and European music expressions in the Antebellum South. 

Please shed light upon what it sounded like. Seems like an unknown, unless there is notation.....or some incredible description.

Converse (1837-1903) would have had to have been a pretty resilient and well-connected 18 year old to write the Briggs' Banjo Instructor.

I never heard that he actually wrote it either. It seems that somewhere I read he contributed...or may have contributed. He had a few in the Rice. Seems like the heavy hand of Buckley.

I hear what Mark is saying. Before my plunge into minstrel music, I assumed that the thumb and index style somehow over time morphed into mountain clawhammer with all of ITS African like ambiguous tonalities, complicated right AND left hand moves, and soulful, pentatonic, to-the-bone feel.  And I, too, like Mark, hold the "Briggs stuff" in high regard. And I think that Joe Weidlich in his books has sorted out what most of us would like (and are able to) play. To make my point clearer, when I feel that a tune has gone off and forgotten about the drone string, heck, it just ain't banjo anymore. Boy am I gonna catch hell.

I understand what Mark is saying about songs being notated and it's to be understood that a certain feel is to be executed, naturally. It's that way with Irish fiddling. Irish fiddling has a HUGE influence on American music and minstrel music. I'm preaching to the choir. For instance, in Irish fiddling when there is a line of 8 or 16 notes where a top note descends, ascends or takes on some melody, and these notes alternately bounce on and off a repeated 'drone' then the drone (in Irish fiddling) is almost silent and it's a lovely ghost-note kind of thing with a great bouncy feel. Sometimes when I hear banjos going bang-a-bang-a-bang, I wonder if they were EVER really played that way, and we've totally lost what Mark is talking about.

At 3:10 in this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OilNy6nY2YM is the phrasing I'm talking about. It's the same move we do when we play a string of eigth notes, a drone being every other one. This is old fiddling and Kevin was young when he learned this stuff plus he learned usually directly from older players. And listen to the very slight swing in these reels. Some people can't hear it, some fiddlers can't play it. It's there. Kinda like a triple dotted eigth.  It's just something understood. "African Echoes In Appalachian Banjo" is a book that has best explained (to me) how the banjo and fiddle influenced each other.

So we are calling both Albert Baur and Frank Converse liars?
No 18 year old has ever had any influence on popular music because that is just crazy talk.

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