Hello everybody,

While searching for banjo records on a french radio website I stumbled upon this emission broadcasted in 2013, in which you can listen to two banjo records (which I find really enjoyable), played by Vance Lowry around 1926 : http://www.francemusique.fr/emission/le-fabuleux-monde-des-archives...

While listening to the first one (it starts at 11'53, following a few explanations by the person who curated the program) I thought he was playing a 4-string banjo (wether plectrum or tenor I'm not sure - there are some moments where it also sounds a bit like a 5-string, but I don't know the subject well enough to be sure), but the second (which starts around 12'30) seems to be a 5 string banjo played in the classic way (which would maybe explain that title, "l'harpo-banjo", which can be translated as "the harp-banjo" I think).

I'm quite curious about this player; does anybody knows exactly what kind of banjo he's playing in each of these records? Were his arrangements ever published? Do you have more informations about his life and other pieces or records? There are some informations on his life in France in the programme (where he apparently knew the poet Jean Cocteau), and somebody called Tony Thomas posted some interesting informations on this youtube video in which Lowry's playing can also be heard : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKXzR8a-_DE

Just in case he wouldn't be playing classic banjo and that discussion would be irrelevant to the present website, here is an other broadcast from the same website which features several classic banjo records (and this time I'm sure of it :) ) : http://www.francemusique.fr/emission/le-fabuleux-monde-des-archives...

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Looks like a SSS Champion to me. Mid to late 1880s

this  figures since he or his associates in Australia kept writing the Stewart Journal about how they ;loved and used Stewart banjos

Look at the cut of his pants.  See how they are tight at the knee then swell out to a bell bottom.  Notice that the hem tapers to be shorter in the front and longer in the back to follow where they will hit the shoe.  When standing this gives a straight "flare" leg with no "break" over the shoe.

That is very later mid 1880s fashion often associated with the Aesthetic Movement and the influence of Oscar Wilde.

I would say this photo is no earlier than 1884 but likely later by a few years.  If he was keeping up, he might have gone to a fretted banjo by the late 1880s (but some were holdouts like E. M. Hall).

Advice heeded and taken. I've ordered the book. Thanks. I hope there is something in there about how the banjo was played and how it sounded.   

Tony Thomas MFA Black Banjoist said:

You should read and look at some of the work that Laurant Dubois has done about the banjo in the Caribbean.  Much of it appears in Laurants great book on the banjo.  Laurant is one of the world's great scholars of the Caribbean and has written magnificent books about Haiti and Guadaloupe and other things, we are quite lucky he is a banjo head


 

I sent the Hosea Easton photo to Paul Hostetter who reciprocated with another I've never seen before.  Check out her banjo!  A zither-banjo type pot and a fretless neck without a channeled fifth string.

Lydia and William Williams with their banjos, Carlyle Street, Napier, NZ, ca. 1890.

And...they're both strung as 7-string banjos. This is a great, very well focused photo. You can zoom in quite far.

The tuner arrangement on his banjo is pure lunacy (at least I think so). The main outer strings (bass an treble) both run to the upper peg (furthest from the nut) on the outside of the tuners. This means those two pegs turn opposite of the rest when tuning.

Her banjo looks very much like an 1867 Dobson copy. If you zoom in, you can see what appears to be the "Dobson" undercut beneath the fretboard where it joins the pot.

His banjo features a perchpole sticking out from the back of the banjo

Ooh, thanks for pointing out these details. I see all you are describing on *his* banjo. And I had missed noticing any of it. On hers I think I see a total of five strings. Look at her C chord.  Her index finger almost touches the third string. Then there is one more below that but after that there is blank fingerboard with no strings running across. I think I can follow four long strings from nut to bridge but no more than that . Her right thumb is on the fifth string..... I think.



Trapdoor2 said:

And...they're both strung as 7-string banjos. This is a great, very well focused photo. You can zoom in quite far.

The tuner arrangement on his banjo is pure lunacy (at least I think so). The main outer strings (bass an treble) both run to the upper peg (furthest from the nut) on the outside of the tuners. This means those two pegs turn opposite of the rest when tuning.

Her banjo looks very much like an 1867 Dobson copy. If you zoom in, you can see what appears to be the "Dobson" undercut beneath the fretboard where it joins the pot.

His banjo features a perchpole sticking out from the back of the banjo

If you zoom in to the headstock of her banjo, she's got strings run to all 6 tuners. The 7th (5th) tuner is geared and the string is very light in color (barely visible along the neck). The bass string (6th) is dark and easy to see.

The 1st and 7th strings are almost invisible. However, I can see just a hint of a thin string running from the tip of her right thumb. The meat of her thumb is touching the bass (bassest?) string. Her index finger is plucking the third string. The 5th string is almost invisible on the head of the banjo but you can see it just at the heel of the neck. It is very light in color (maybe a new silver-wound bass) compared to the 4th and the 6th.

The man's 5th string peg is almost invisible...but it has a set of "Saturn" rings of uncut string wrapped around it. He has left all the strings on his peghead uncut and they curl around randomly.

And...there it is again, Joel. The guy has a watch chain and the button-hole crossbar is on the outside. I guess I'm going to have to change the way I wear mine!

That thin string just below her thumb is what I was calling "the fifth". But now that I see the 6 strings on the peghead I guess it's the seventh.  In any case I meant the short string.  I wonder if either one is a banjo player.  Why is it that so many old photos of people with banjos depict the left hand making a C chord?  Could it be that the photographers knew what that looked like and placed the fingers accordingly?

Trapdoor2 said:

If you zoom in to the headstock of her banjo, she's got strings run to all 6 tuners. The 7th (5th) tuner is geared and the string is very light in color (barely visible along the neck). The bass string (6th) is dark and easy to see.

The 1st and 7th strings are almost invisible. However, I can see just a hint of a thin string running from the tip of her right thumb. The meat of her thumb is touching the bass (bassest?) string. Her index finger is plucking the third string. The 5th string is almost invisible on the head of the banjo but you can see it just at the heel of the neck. It is very light in color (maybe a new silver-wound bass) compared to the 4th and the 6th.

The man's 5th string peg is almost invisible...but it has a set of "Saturn" rings of uncut string wrapped around it. He has left all the strings on his peghead uncut and they curl around randomly.

And...there it is again, Joel. The guy has a watch chain and the button-hole crossbar is on the outside. I guess I'm going to have to change the way I wear mine!

When I last posted here I had forgotten that in 2014, my friend Tenor banjo and mandolin historian  crummudeon on a level able to tangle even with Eli Kaufman, John Hoft, discovered a newspaper clipping from a Black new York paper from 1915 that discusses McGinnis Shaw as an African American company, and the only Black instrument making company in the US at that point with its operation at 428 Lennox Avenue in Harlem.   McGinnis Shaw may have moved to Philadelphia after WWI.  The Clef Club split in two around 1914, and most of the leaders of both factions ended up in Europe during WWI--a large number of its major musicians joined a variety of groups recruited to go to England to take advantage of the absence of British musicians drafted into the Great War and still others ended up in the war itself, and many of them in the Military Orchestra Reese Europe recruited (it was officially a regimental orchestra but he received money from millionaires like John D Rockefeller I to pay salaries above military pay and recruited black musicians from across the USA and even went to Puerto Rico to recruit musicians there for his band).    However, in Philiadelphia a Unified Clef Club remained in operation through the 1920s and it remained as a fraternal or social organization for Black musicians in Philiadelphia into the 1990s if not later



F. Chris Ware said:

Hi All,

As one who also tries to pledge fealty to How It Really Was, I’m attaching here a photo which perhaps you can make use of in your talk, Tony, of (I think) Louis Mitchell’s Jazz Kings with perhaps Vance Lowry seated holding a banjolin and Dan Kildare at the piano, c. 1915 or so. This was fished from a Manhattan trash can by my friend John Keen a few years ago and sent to me for inclusion in the final volume of my, ahem, still-to-be-completed fourth “Ragtime Ephemeralist,” but you’re welcome to present it with your talk if you don’t already have a copy. I wish I could be there; it sounds like it’s going to be fascinating. I always greatly enjoy your postings and your enthusiastic, engaging and ever-more precise research.

Not that it matters, but I believe the bandolins pictured here (not the Ecuadorian or Trinidadian instruments) are perhaps ones of American make, which I’ve read were by McGinnis and Shaw and stamped “Clef Club” to capitalize on the popularity, one imagines, of the name. After looking for years I finally found one last year and fixed it up (pictured, post-fixing up; dowel pre-fixing up) and it’s sort of fun to (try to) play, tuned of course like a violin/mandolin with a slightly radiused fingerboard. John Avery Turner has had an Essex version for sale on their site under "mandolins" for quite a while now.

Just to confuse things, I think they were also sometimes called “banjolins” or a “tango banjo” or “melody banjo” and the slightly later (?) banjo-mandolins were offered in both four- and eight-stringed versions. It’s seemed to me that the tenor banjo perhaps evolved out of all of this, tuned, as it is, in fifths like a violin or a mandolin (or really, a viola/mandola) but I dunno. Maybe the scroll-topped version was considered a sort of banjo-violin and the “paddle headed” version was a banjo-mandolin, even though each had four strings.

Also (not from my collection) a photo of “Europe’s String Octett” with, second from right, Noble Sissle (!) also holding a four-string banjo-mandolin-type thing.

A lot of these Kildare/Ciro’s Club recordings are available on YouTube, too:

St. Louis Blues — Dan Kildare Groups

All warmest of wishes, as always,

C.

P.S. Jody, as for strings, who knows, but if one believes the violin/mandolin principle, it might follow they were gut/metal, but life is complex and rule-less so the reality was probably much more interesting.

Jake Wildwood in Vermont was listing an even fancier instrument of this brand in his  shop  in Vermont in 2012.  Dont know if he sold it or who bought it.

F. Chris Ware said:

Hi All,

As one who also tries to pledge fealty to How It Really Was, I’m attaching here a photo which perhaps you can make use of in your talk, Tony, of (I think) Louis Mitchell’s Jazz Kings with perhaps Vance Lowry seated holding a banjolin and Dan Kildare at the piano, c. 1915 or so. This was fished from a Manhattan trash can by my friend John Keen a few years ago and sent to me for inclusion in the final volume of my, ahem, still-to-be-completed fourth “Ragtime Ephemeralist,” but you’re welcome to present it with your talk if you don’t already have a copy. I wish I could be there; it sounds like it’s going to be fascinating. I always greatly enjoy your postings and your enthusiastic, engaging and ever-more precise research.

Not that it matters, but I believe the bandolins pictured here (not the Ecuadorian or Trinidadian instruments) are perhaps ones of American make, which I’ve read were by McGinnis and Shaw and stamped “Clef Club” to capitalize on the popularity, one imagines, of the name. After looking for years I finally found one last year and fixed it up (pictured, post-fixing up; dowel pre-fixing up) and it’s sort of fun to (try to) play, tuned of course like a violin/mandolin with a slightly radiused fingerboard. John Avery Turner has had an Essex version for sale on their site under "mandolins" for quite a while now.

Just to confuse things, I think they were also sometimes called “banjolins” or a “tango banjo” or “melody banjo” and the slightly later (?) banjo-mandolins were offered in both four- and eight-stringed versions. It’s seemed to me that the tenor banjo perhaps evolved out of all of this, tuned, as it is, in fifths like a violin or a mandolin (or really, a viola/mandola) but I dunno. Maybe the scroll-topped version was considered a sort of banjo-violin and the “paddle headed” version was a banjo-mandolin, even though each had four strings.

Also (not from my collection) a photo of “Europe’s String Octett” with, second from right, Noble Sissle (!) also holding a four-string banjo-mandolin-type thing.

A lot of these Kildare/Ciro’s Club recordings are available on YouTube, too:

St. Louis Blues — Dan Kildare Groups

All warmest of wishes, as always,

C.

P.S. Jody, as for strings, who knows, but if one believes the violin/mandolin principle, it might follow they were gut/metal, but life is complex and rule-less so the reality was probably much more interesting.

The group in the first picture may be either the Ciro Club  orchestra (which was known as the Clef Club band until it ended up getting into the super posh Circo Club frequented by the top of British society at the timt,  but it is not Mitchell's NY group  and not any edition of his  Jazz Kings.   that was known as the Southen Symphony Quinttete.  I need to compare pictures.  There is a possibility that it might be the 7 Spades, a group these entertainers put together when the Circo  Club was shut down at the urging of one Neville Chamberlin in 1917.   What is amazing is that in the midst of the U boat campaign among other things all of these musicians were going back and forth between New York and London.   Mitchell cross the Atlantic just before the war with his band,  then went back when the war started,  then went back to England,  and returned another time to try to get a larger bandm, before returning again. before he went to France with the 7 spades.  They had  bookings to perform in Russia in late November and December 1917, but events in Russia closed that off.  Mitchell stayed in Paris running his Kings untilaround 1924 or 25  and then running a bar and restaurant until 1939,  Many of these musicians also stayed in Europe.  Lowry apparently stayed in France through the 30s, but also apparently worked in Sweden and went to England when WWII started and returned to NYC in 1941 apparently living in Boston and  Kansas City before he died in 1948



Tony Thomas MFA Black Banjoist said:

When I last posted here I had forgotten that in 2014, my friend Tenor banjo and mandolin historian  crummudeon on a level able to tangle even with Eli Kaufman, John Hoft, discovered a newspaper clipping from a Black new York paper from 1915 that discusses McGinnis Shaw as an African American company, and the only Black instrument making company in the US at that point with its operation at 428 Lennox Avenue in Harlem.   McGinnis Shaw may have moved to Philadelphia after WWI.  The Clef Club split in two around 1914, and most of the leaders of both factions ended up in Europe during WWI--a large number of its major musicians joined a variety of groups recruited to go to England to take advantage of the absence of British musicians drafted into the Great War and still others ended up in the war itself, and many of them in the Military Orchestra Reese Europe recruited (it was officially a regimental orchestra but he received money from millionaires like John D Rockefeller I to pay salaries above military pay and recruited black musicians from across the USA and even went to Puerto Rico to recruit musicians there for his band).    However, in Philiadelphia a Unified Clef Club remained in operation through the 1920s and it remained as a fraternal or social organization for Black musicians in Philiadelphia into the 1990s if not later



F. Chris Ware said:

Hi All,

As one who also tries to pledge fealty to How It Really Was, I’m attaching here a photo which perhaps you can make use of in your talk, Tony, of (I think) Louis Mitchell’s Jazz Kings with perhaps Vance Lowry seated holding a banjolin and Dan Kildare at the piano, c. 1915 or so. This was fished from a Manhattan trash can by my friend John Keen a few years ago and sent to me for inclusion in the final volume of my, ahem, still-to-be-completed fourth “Ragtime Ephemeralist,” but you’re welcome to present it with your talk if you don’t already have a copy. I wish I could be there; it sounds like it’s going to be fascinating. I always greatly enjoy your postings and your enthusiastic, engaging and ever-more precise research.

Not that it matters, but I believe the bandolins pictured here (not the Ecuadorian or Trinidadian instruments) are perhaps ones of American make, which I’ve read were by McGinnis and Shaw and stamped “Clef Club” to capitalize on the popularity, one imagines, of the name. After looking for years I finally found one last year and fixed it up (pictured, post-fixing up; dowel pre-fixing up) and it’s sort of fun to (try to) play, tuned of course like a violin/mandolin with a slightly radiused fingerboard. John Avery Turner has had an Essex version for sale on their site under "mandolins" for quite a while now.

Just to confuse things, I think they were also sometimes called “banjolins” or a “tango banjo” or “melody banjo” and the slightly later (?) banjo-mandolins were offered in both four- and eight-stringed versions. It’s seemed to me that the tenor banjo perhaps evolved out of all of this, tuned, as it is, in fifths like a violin or a mandolin (or really, a viola/mandola) but I dunno. Maybe the scroll-topped version was considered a sort of banjo-violin and the “paddle headed” version was a banjo-mandolin, even though each had four strings.

Also (not from my collection) a photo of “Europe’s String Octett” with, second from right, Noble Sissle (!) also holding a four-string banjo-mandolin-type thing.

A lot of these Kildare/Ciro’s Club recordings are available on YouTube, too:

St. Louis Blues — Dan Kildare Groups

All warmest of wishes, as always,

C.

P.S. Jody, as for strings, who knows, but if one believes the violin/mandolin principle, it might follow they were gut/metal, but life is complex and rule-less so the reality was probably much more interesting.

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