On the cover this week ...
March 7, 2014
Innovating a rich music revival
Banjoist Jayme Stone brings his Lomax Project to CelticFest.
Jayme Stone calls himself a banjoist, instigator and composer. His repertoire, which includes four albums – The Utmost (2007), Africa to Appalachia (2008), Room of Wonders (2010) and The Other Side of the Air (2013) – bridge myriad genres, including folk and roots music from around the world, jazz and chamber music. His latest endeavor is the Lomax Project, which he brings here for CelticFest Vancouver next weekend.
Music journalists have said that Stone’s music “sounds like nothing else on earth,” is “spirited,” “enchanting,” “adventurous” and “delicate, imaginative and unusual.” To get a true sense of what Stone is capable, however, and what his oeuvre sounds like, it might help to know more about from where he comes than to where he’s going.
More associated in North American ears with the sounds of Appalachia and bluegrass, the banjo also has a significant presence in traditional American folk and roots music, including country, blues and old-time. However, what we know of as the modern banjo has a longer – and more global – story to tell.
“Predecessors of the banjo and the blueprint for making and playing it came over with slaves from West Africa starting in the 1500s,” Stone told the Independent in an email interview. “It was, and continues to be, part of many African-American traditions, and African influence abounds in all forms of American music, including the blues, jazz, rock and roll and the many roots and branches of traditional music. From my perspective, each of these genres tells a unique story of how immigrant culture from the British Isles and Europe combined with African culture in a different way. The history of the banjo tells a similar story.”
Growing up in Toronto, Stone developed a love for music early but didn’t start playing banjo until his teens. “I was born and raised in Toronto but started playing the banjo at 16 when I moved to Vancouver for a spell. My parents had a good record collection growing up and my uncle Ian loved listening to music and played a little piano. We used to listen to old records with rapt attention, and he was the first person to turn me on to poetry, Eastern philosophy and ’60s culture.” Most significantly, perhaps, delving into those records introduced Stone to the inherent possibilities of his chosen instrument.
“I discovered the banjo at precisely the moment I got serious about studying music,” he said. “I had started playing country blues guitar having fallen in love with folks like Elizabeth Cotten, Mississippi John Hurt and Reverend Gary Davis. At that time, you could mail order cassettes of out-of-print recordings from the Smithsonian Folkways catalogue and I reveled in the discovery of these older artists and avidly read liner notes. In a short span, I heard the banjo in many settings, from southern old-time Appalachian music to Mike Seeger to Earl Scruggs to modern pioneers like Tony Trischka ad Béla Fleck.
“Béla came to play at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver and it turned my world upside down. I immediately wanted to play the banjo, but I also realized that you could play any kind of music on the instrument. It was thrilling to see both what a varied history the banjo had and how much music had yet to be played on the instrument. I loved the quirky physics of the tuning, its unique timbre and variety of playing styles. I’ve been hooked ever since!”
Stone’s musical lens is global and multidisciplinary in scope, as he explores songwriting and storytelling traditions from around the world. Bringing all the pieces together is a labor of love. “I’ve long been interested in music from around the world and like immersing myself in different approaches to making music,” he said. “I love the interaction and improvisational spirit of jazz; the clarity of melody and grit of folk music; the attention to detail and color in chamber music; the rhythmic variety of music from foreign cultures. It’s often these core elements that attract me, rather than simply the veneer of style, if that makes any sense. In a way, I like to bring different approaches into my own musical culture and sort of curate my own esthetic world, as if it were an art gallery with all different kinds of art hanging on the walls.”
His reputation for innovation, reinvention and collaboration stems from his role as an instigator. “At bottom, I really just love being engaged in listening to and learning about music. Since I sometimes hear things that don’t exist yet or have an inkling to combine things that aren’t obvious, I have to make that music so it exists in the world. Along the way, I’ve performed, made records, produced them for others and taught – it’s really all a natural extension of my passion for music and interest in sharing it with others. It’s often necessary for independent musicians like myself to wear many hats. I started using the word ‘instigator’ because I often kickstart and head up projects and collaborations. I’ve always been an upstart of sorts.”
Indeed, frequent collaboration has been integral to Stone’s career. Each album and project has been a shared effort, as they take listeners from the banjo’s roots in West Africa, to the music of Bach and Debussy, and along the Cinnamon Route through Persia and India and beyond.
“I really love collaborating,” Stone noted. “It includes so many things I enjoy: learning, sharing, creating, friendship and community. I also like working with musicians that have their own voice and sensibility – often people that play their instruments in unique ways. It just makes sense to collaborate because I could never write music that fully allows them express their personalities and idiosyncrasies. By collaborating, I get to draw on people’s uniqueness while also working it into a context that includes my own voice and approach. I have to be very organized, plan ahead and work with people who I trust. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’m pretty used to balancing all the elements and rolling with things when they go awry.”
Stone’s Lomax Project is named after Alan Lomax, the famed field collector of American folk and roots music, an ethnomusicological treasure trove, much of which is archived at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Centre. Lomax is also well known for having produced radio and live concerts, as well as for his academic contributions and political activism, among other roles. It is fitting that Stone would pay homage to the multitalented and versatile Lomax, whose work was cross-genre, global and truly multicultural.
“Alan Lomax was a folklorist who began accompanying his father, John Lomax, on field recording trips through the American South in the early 1930s when portable recording technology first became available,” Stone explained. “They collected folk songs from people on plantations, penitentiaries, front porches, churches and schoolyards in the hopes of capturing traditional, rural, folk songs from people who made music for their own enjoyment rather than for commercial gain. Alan made field-collecting trips all over America and eventually all over the world for 60-plus years and recorded over 50,000 songs, in addition to taking photographs, making films and writing prolifically about traditional music. He was an incredibly strong-minded, dedicated and prolific cultural force.
“The idea of my project is to unearth songs that Alan collected and collaborate with some of my favorite musicians on new arrangements. We’ll recycle, re-imagine and rework these old melodies and lyrics and try to bring new life to the material.”
The artists with whom Stone will perform in Vancouver include multi-instrumentalist Eli West, fiddler Crittany Haas, singer and composer Moira Smiley and double bassist Joe Phillips. Other Lomax Project artists have included Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Margaret Glaspy, Greg Garrison, Julian Lage, and Pharis and Jason Romero.
Stone’s own cultural background is Jewish. “I am Jewish or, as I prefer to say, Jew-ish. My family on both sides are Jewish, and I grew up going to Hebrew school, synagogue, having a bar mitzvah and all that. It’s not something I kept up with in my adult life, and I looked more to Buddhist and yoga traditions in my late teens. Since having kids, my wife and I have been slowly coming around to incorporating more Jewish traditions back into our lives. We try to do Shabbat dinner every week and get together for some holidays with other like-minded, somewhat-on-the-fence, modern Jewish families and friends. I can’t say being Jewish has influenced my music per se, but it’s of course one of the many things that has shaped who I am.”
Finding the time to unwind might be difficult, but Stone has a rich life outside of music, too. “When I’m not working on music, I’m spending time with my family. I have an almost-four-year-old girl and a 10-week-old boy, so life is full. When I do find time to unwind, I like to practise yoga, do contact improv dance, read and hang out with friends. I love to cook and we usually make a big deal about meals at home.”
After CelticFest, Stone will play a concert at the Bach Music Festival of Canada with his Other Side of the Air collaborators. The concert will feature the quintet “playing a Bach fugue, a Trinidadian calypso, Bulgarian mountain dance and an Appalachian barnburner.”
And next on the list for Stone? “I’ll be recording the Lomax Project over the next year and an album will be out in the spring of 2015. It’ll include Grammy-winning songster Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Brittany Haas, Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Eli West, Julian Lage, Greg Garrison, Joe Phillips and others. We’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in the spring to fund the recording.”
Jayme Stone brings his Lomax Project to CelticFest Vancouver on March 14, 8 p.m., at the Vogue; March 15, 8 p.m., at Vancouver FanClub; March 16, 2 p.m., at Mahony and Sons Music Stage (Granville at Robson); and March 15, noon-4 p.m., at the Tom Lee Music City Stage (929 Granville St.) for a series of one-hour workshops with Lomax Project artists. For tickets and information, visit celticfestvancouver.com.
Art space gets new director
Linda Lando shares her expertise with Zack Gallery.
“I was in the right place at the right time with the right preparation,” said Linda Lando about her new position: director of the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery.
Lando has unique qualifications for the job, having been an art dealer, with her own gallery, for 30 years. Now, she wants to share her knowledge of the arts with the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and its gallery.
Lando didn’t dream of becoming a gallery owner when she was young. “It just happened,” she told the Independent. “After getting my degree in art history from UBC, I did some work for the UBC art gallery and worked for a local auction house. When Alex Fraser Gallery had an opening, I applied and got the job. I liked gallery work so much that I ended up buying the gallery. It was unintentional. It was never a goal of mine to run a gallery, but I loved it.”
Although her gallery has changed its name twice since – it is now Granville Fine Art on the corner of Granville and Broadway – Lando remains the owner. She intends to retain her client and artist lists, both of which she’s established over the years, but she is eager to explore the new venue, to dedicate half of her time to the Zack.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else but running a gallery, but I’m ready for something new, for community-minded work, away from the commercial art world…. Sometimes we have to rise above the monetary values and do something for the community.”
She had been searching for a new direction for awhile when she received a phone call from Reisa Smiley Schneider, the gallery’s recently retired gallery director. Schneider told the Independent: “We started talking about the recent changes in our lives, and she said she wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing in the next while and had to make some decisions about her gallery. We chatted for awhile, and then she said someone had suggested she apply for my position. I asked her how she responded to them, and she sounded like it was something she might consider. I proceeded to tell her how much I had loved my job over the 15 years I had worked there. I included some of the things that frustrated me as well, just to be realistic, but basically I encouraged her to apply and to do so soon, as the deadline for applications was in two days. I was delighted to hear that she was interested in the position, as it seemed a ‘win-win-win’ for everyone and every organization involved. What a gift to me to have Linda, a gallery owner for 30 years, take over as gallery director! I am excited to see how the gallery will soar under her direction.”
Lando elaborated, “I’ve known Reisa for some time, and she was always happy here at the Zack. She had a connection with people. When I learned about her retirement, I decided to apply for this job. Sitting all day at my commercial gallery could get lonely. Nobody comes there just to chat. But here, interacting is easy. Children come to the gallery. Someone offered me a chocolate. Nobody’s offered me chocolate at my gallery. Here, Reisa had created a warm, friendly place, and I’ll try to keep it [that way].”
She is already keeping that promise, maintaining a link between the past and the future of the gallery. Whoever comes through the door – an art lover to look at the current exhibition, a toddler to play hide and seek or a senior on the way from a class – Lando engages everyone with a smile and a friendly word.
“Running a gallery requires huge people skills,” she noted about her approach. “I have to keep my artists happy. The best part of the job is phoning the artists and saying that their painting is sold. I love it. It could be very disheartening, when you put up a beautiful show, and it doesn’t sell. But it’s not only about selling.” Her job is also about educating people, she said. She considers the educational aspect essential, both for a commercial gallery and for the Zack.
Keeping her clients happy is also paramount. “Anybody walking into the gallery with the intention to buy is in a good space with me. I have to build on that. Sometimes, people start by liking art and then they become collectors, passionate and knowledgeable about the art they collect. I have to keep up my research to be worthy of their trust. It’s all about trust. For the clients to trust my taste and my artists, I have to know what’s going on in the marketplace, what is a good investment, especially in regards to historical works. Before [the] internet, I often went to auctions and shows in Toronto. Now it’s easier – everything is online.”
Unlike sales of historical masterpieces, where the dealer’s personal taste counts for much less than marketplace demands and cultural traditions, in the modern arts, the dealer’s taste is utterly important.
“That’s why I like the Zack,” Lando added. “It’s not exactly a commercial gallery, no pressure to sell. But, of course, if paintings sell, it’s good for everyone, for the artists and for the JCC. I see it as my biggest challenge: finding good, quality art and making sure a certain calibre of artists wants to exhibit here. Plus, attracting serious buyers. Now, when collectors want to buy a painting, the Zack is not on their usual route. I’d like to change that, so they would consider the Zack when they are ready to make a purchase.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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