November 21, 2011

“Jayme Stone, not your average banjo picker”

Date published: 05/17/2011
Publication: Troy Record

By Don Wilcock

Artists who think outside the box advance and change the sound of music. But what do you do with someone who was never stuck in the box in the first place?

You listen!

“I just love music and am fired up by any music that wakes up my ear and has something about it that I find compelling emotionally and intellectually,” says Jayme Stone, the banjo player who performs Saturday night at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy.

On his latest CD, “Roomful of Wonders,” Stone took inspiration from Japanese poetry, Brazilian literature, and Malian village instruments. I won’t even begin to list his musical influences that run from Classical to African. Suffice it to say where Bela Fleck ends, Stone begins.

“I can pick and choose what I love about all these different kinds of music,” says Stone. “I love the kind of tradition and warmth of roots music, and I love the intensity and interaction of dance, and I love the precision and purposefulness of classical music, and I love the variety of rhythm and melody from music from all over the world.

“So, I feel I can draw on any of those things although I try to make the practice of being studious and learning as much as I can about all these different musics. I also feel totally comfortable dabbling in and having my way with different kinds of music that I find interesting and fold it into my music and see what happens. And mostly what happens is you find that all the wells connect and both historically and just creatively. We’re all working with the same musical materials and, yeah, it seems like a wide open field to me.”

Stone has studied with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck, whom he considers an enormous influence. “My official start on the banjo was I was aware that you could at least try and play the banjo in all different contexts and with musicians from all over the world and that was fascinating to me because I have always kept an ear to the ground and love (music) from all over. So it was really natural, and actually you find instruments very similar to the banjo if not directly related in pretty much every culture in the world.”

Stone is a recent Renaissance man following in a great tradition. Bach was as inspired by the folk music he was hearing in the British Isles folk dancing of his era.

“What he was really doing was kind of doing a pan European survey of folk dance styles that he would use as a kind of grounding for his own compositions. Then of course, someone like Chopin wrote these 57 Majorkas which were all based on a Polish folk dance.”

Stone also recently has been listening to composer Bela Bartok. “He actually traveled all around his native Hungary and also to Bulgaria and Romania and he (collected) thousands of field recordings of folksingers and violinists and he would listen to these and meticulously transcribe  them. Then he would write pieces based on these folk melodies. So I saw the repertoire of my new record as a way to bridge the gap between classical and folk roots and of course all of the other influences that I have.”

Stone’s 2009 album “Africa to Appalachia” deals with the roots of the instrument itself. The banjo came from West Africa, and when Stone wanted to learn more about its roots he went to Mali. “Almost every form of American music is hugely indebted to what came from Africa. You hear elements of African music in the blues, in old time mountain music, in a lot of folk music, in R & B of course, and jazz and all these African American musics were hugely influenced of course by African music. And yet you also see a lot of things that perhaps didn’t cross the ocean during the slave trade.

“One of the things I felt was that because of the culture of the slave trade there wasn’t a context for a bumper transmission. You had slaves on plantation that (never) really had a chance to sit down and speak a common language in a free open way and study the music in a traditional way. Those people who came over were also torn out of their cultural fabric as it were.”

Perhaps most surprising about listening to Roomful of Wonders is how comfortable it sounds to my ears which may be used to hearing Bela Fleck, but I’m a neophyte when it comes to some of the more esoteric sources of his inspiration. While his music is comfortable, it is also exciting. I mean if you think the banjo is corn, this guy is going to pop your kernels.

Banjo player Jayme Stone (with Casey Driessen on fiddle, Grant Gordy on guitar and Greg Garrison on drums) appears Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, 3361 Sixth Ave., Troy. Tickets are $10 at the door. Call  272-2390 for more information or e-mail [email protected]

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