A sip of an old matured banjo


Bi Apple

New York, 5th Avenue, c. 1920

Bi Apple

Despite the fact that it became out of fashion, the old fingerstyle banjo - know today as the 'classic style' - is an important part of the history of the instrument. After the more primitive ‘stroke style’ launched in the 1830s, nationally and internationally spread out by the minstrel show, it has been the predominant playing style - on stage as in the parlour - of the late 19th and the early 20th century. Roughly imitated by ‘country’ players as Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952) - the first star of the Grand Ole Opry -, or by Charlie Poole (1892-1931), who had themselves been inspired by virtuosos as Vess Ossman (1868-1923) or Fred Van Eps (1878-1960), it gave a new impulse to the ‘old time banjo’ of the 1920-1930, leaving a permanent stylistic imprint on the more modern ‘3 - finger style’ interpretations of Earl Scruggs (1924-2012), blending it with the ‘bluegrass’ created by Bill Monroe (1911-1996). After WWII, the bluegrass banjo emerged as a new and revolutionary style of playing the traditional music of the South.

On the other hand, after World War II and a long period of obscurity, the genuine old classic banjo style had almost disappeared in the US, although it's legacy will remain more alive in England. But nowadays, with the continuous efforts of the American Banjo Fraternity and the emergence of the internet, it's increasingly easy to access to the original sources1.

My modest renditions are played solo, without any accompaniment, but one should keep in mind that those pieces were usually written with a second banjo or with a piano part. They are home recordings. Consider them like demo tapes, delivered without pretention. This is not a definitive work but a work in progress. In the future some tunes could be exchanged by better takes, some new titles and recordings will also be added.

As one musician friend told me years ago, “classic banjo is fun”. It's also challenging, sometime tricky and defy the banjo player. I invite you to try your hands on it. You will not regret your efforts. It will for sure enhance your comprehension of the neck of your favorite instrument and enhance your musical skills.

Go ahead and enjoy.

Gérard De Smaele
June 25, 2023

After the Ball - Frank Bradbury

Banjo Caprice (The) - Frank Bradbury

Alabama Moon - Frank Bradbury

Banjo Frolic (A) - Joe Morley

Banjo Oddity - Joe Morley

Banjoland - Joe Morley

Banjo Vamp (A) - Emile Grimshaw

Banshee (The) - Emile Grimshaw

Belle Of The Pantomime - Joe Morley

Buckley’s Jig - James Buckley

Berkeley March - Brooks & Denton

Cake Walk - Joe Morley

Canadian Parade (The) - Joe Morley

Dance Morisco - Fred Bacon

Daily Practice (A) - Grimshaw-Morley

Donkey Laugh - Joe Morley

Egyptian Princess - Joe Morley

Footlight Favourite (A) - Joe Morley

Elfaletta - Joe Morley

Fun On The Wabash - Joe Morley

Lancashire Clogs - Emile Grimshaw

Mister Punch - Joe Morley

Marche de Concert - Olly Oakley

Ragtime Episode (A) - Paul Eno

Skeleton Dance - Norton Greenop

Telegraph Galop (The) - F.G. Chapman

Sunflower Dance - Herman Rowland

Zarana - Joe Morley

Gérard De Smaele, 5-string banjo, nylon strings
Liner Notes: Gérard De Smaele
Layout: Jean Leroy

  1. You will find all the necessary sources and documentation in The Wayne Adams ‘Old Classic’ Banjo Collection: 1897-1951, a triple CD box published by Frémeaux & Associés (Paris/Vincennes, 2022). The English and French versions of the liner notes are freely available on the internet.

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