Jazz Banjo Player?


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During the original heyday of ragtime music in the very late 1800s and the very early 1900s, banjos were in common use in minstrel shows and as the accompaniment for individual folksingers. At that time just about all American banjos had five strings with the drone fifth string attached to an outrigger tuning peg set at the fifth fret, just as one sees today used in folk music and bluegrass music.

jazz banjo

The ragtime orchestras often had guitars as part of the chord background and violins as part of the melodic lead. As the ragtime orchestras evolved into jazz bands in New Orleans and other places, horns became the lead instruments and were too loud for the guitars to be heard.

One of my traditional jazz musician friends has a sign in his jamming room that says, “If you can’t hear the piano, you’re playing too loud.” Well, banjos sure are louder than guitars, but the drone fifth string gets in the way of the many chords used in ragtime and traditional jazz. So the guitar players played six string banjos tuned and played like guitars. Some of the earliest and best known of the trad players, Johnny St. Cyr and Clancy Hayes among them, played six string banjos that they made themselves or had made for them.