Chris Cloffi. Personal chat, his banjos, his workshop and love for Classic Style

I received an email from my friend Chris Cioffi who is a luthier and expert on all things banjo. Classic Style is his particular favourite and he has amassed a large collection of all things relating to the style and shares his encyclopaedic knowledge on here!

Chris informs me that he has made a personal video to chat not only about banjo, but also another of his interests. He had seen a video interview with Bob Doe, one of the Battle of Britain fighter pilots.  They asked him what the living pilots wanted from anyone now, and he said "nothing...we were just doing our job and would do it again.  We would just like to be remembered"....I figured this was my little personal way of doing that.

I intended to post Chris's video on Battle of Britain Day, but the NING servers were broken and I was unable to post..sorry Chris! BUT all now seems to be fixed so here it is.

In the first section of  the video Chris chats banjo and then thanks those involved or affected by the Battle of Britain then shows and demonstrates banjos he has made.

They sound amazing, if a little let down by playing bluegrass "-)  How's about a bit of Classic Style, eh Chris?

Thanks for video and do keep posting!

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Thank you for posting this, Ian....very humbling.

This year in the shop has been very busy, so I haven't had as much time to be here with everyone, and that is something I want to change as I miss the company I have shared here....as well as all of the information and resources that you and the crew have freely shared.

I'm so happy to hear that our ning situation made it after the June threshold scare and that you and your wife are doing well!

Part of collecting and researching things, in my experience, involves quite a bit of disarray and confusion....as well as of course, expense and time.   Hopefully in the future I can budget my time between work and classic banjo interests to try to be more active here and share more things that might be of interest.

Russ Carson, who plays the dreaded bluegrass and clawhammer styles of banjo, is the one helping me with the videos I have posted on youtube about my shop activities, as well as this Battle of Britain/English Banjo Connection video I posted a few days before Battle of Britain Day.  Russ is pretty passionate about early stroke style and the roots of clawhammer, and with his 3 finger passions, he understands my and our passion for it, and many times when we are visiting, and I have a hot Ossman or Morley or Van Eps thing on, he will stop mid sentence, look at the speaker, and just say "WOW!  Did you hear that?" ....to which I reply....this is what I've been trying to tell you....LOL.   My attempts to date to interest Russ in learning to read music have been a total failure.....but he's young yet!

You and Jody S. have recommended that I include some classic banjo recordings in the videos so that viewers have some concrete musical connections to the players I mentioned in this particular video, and in general, and of course, that is now something I'm more aware of to do in the future.

The issue will be to somehow lure the bluegrass players (who are my main shop customers) into seeing the relevance of classic banjo in some of the future videos.....of course, when I discovered classic banjo in hearing my first Ossman cylinder, I as a bluegrass  banjo player immediately saw EXTREME parallels and technical/historic/folk tradition connections....in the last 20 years, surprisingly to me, most modern 5 string players don't, upon a first listen, immediately get the connection as I did.

Oddly, my friend and dobro player Jerry Douglas IMMEDIATELY understood my passion when I played some records for him about 20 years ago and encouraged me to continue to spread the word.  Jerry is a HUGE fan of Earl Scruggs, JD Crowe, et al, and being a 3 finger player himself on his chosen instrument as well as a relative newcomer to playing clawhammer/stroke style 5 string really liked the connections technically and historically between classic and bluegrass playing.  He also thought the music itself was incredible in it's own right.  That was very heartening to me.

Thanks again for the nice mention here, Ian, and of course, I hope to try to help all the crew here keep classic banjo alive.

I'm so glad there is this gathering place for us!

Rule Britannia!

Chris

I also suggested to Chris that he include classic banjo music in his future videos so that those who watch them, which at this point are 100% bluegrass banjo people, will know what he his talking about when he mentions classic banjo. But there is nothing to be gained, Ian, and everyone else, by denigrating bluegrass banjo playing. That's not how friends are won. And besides, as I have said many times on this forum, bluegrass banjo playing is not what you imagine it is. It is not about being louder and showing off. It is about being a team player. Most of the effort and attention goes to supporting singers and other instruments in creative and musical ways. When it comes to accompaniment bluegrass banjo is more developed and nuanced than classic banjo. So please, everyone, refrain from criticizing other forms of banjo playing. It has no upside.

I do agree, Jody, though I was just trying to tread lightly around Ian's tastes out of respect.

This very thought about the misconception of what the heart of bluegrass banjo is about, Jody, was actually talked about in BMG magazine many times in the '70's as it related to British bluegrass banjo players at the time.  The commentary there was parallel with your exortation.

There was LOTS of commentary about trying to get away from playing loud with no taste and to work at being musical with tone....volume being a completely secondary  issue and not a goal, and also, how this poor pursuit of technique was giving the five string banjo a bad repuation....Ian, maybe you remember some of this, and experienced the subject matter at the time?

Even further back, BMG talked about similar issues with pursuing classic banjo.

Again, funny how the issues regarding the pursuit of playing the 5 string banjo aren't that different from style to style.

Good point, Jody, and well presented, many thanks.

Chris

Perhaps nobody spotted the:       "-) 

Joshing,  arf arf arf !

I did spot it, but I don't see the humor. Bad bluegrass banjo players are already doing a bang up job of reinforcing stereotypes and don't need help. 

thereallyniceman said:

Perhaps nobody spotted the:       "-) 

Joshing,  arf arf arf !

Read it again Jody:

"They sound amazing, if a little let down by playing bluegrass "-)  How's about a bit of Classic Style, eh Chris?"

Let down because they were not playing Classic Style.

 Jokes always lose something when you have to explain them, don't they?

:-)))))))

You have too much faith in me, Ian....I'm too shy and not "on my classic banjo legs" enough just yet.....I've got to get a bit better before I should play classic banjo in public just yet.....at least for everyone else's sake!

Jody has really helped me with insights and advice and info on St. Louis Tickle, and really I suppose it was a bit of too much to bite off for my abilities when I started on it as a classic player, but I just figured I was advanced enough at bluegrass that I could do it.....

...the rub is the right feel and attack and delivery in the classic style.....and of course, trying to learn treble clef fast enough to read at my practice playing speed....I used to play trombone, so I knew bass clef, and had worked on treble clef enough learning fiddle tunes on bluegrass banjo, but I think with classic banjo, as Jody encouraged me to continue pursuing, I'm trying hard to bring my reading speed skills up along with the right hand consistency at the same time instead of cheating one or the other along the way.  The hope is of course a longer time to fruition, but hopefully, a more solid result for both abilities in the end.

I'm still working on any sort of day to day consistency with a good classic style barefingered right hand touch and delivery yet......

But hopefully, it's coming with more practice.....!

You explained it as I already understood it.  The implication is that classic style is superior.  Well it is.... in certain ways. In other ways it is not.  Anyway, it's a small thing. I decided when I first joined this forum that when anyone wrote something denigrating another style as a means of making classic style seem better by comparison, that I would present the actual facts and boringly, predictably, annoyingly repeat my view that denigrating another tribe is not an effective way of promoting one's own.  Maybe I should retire from that job. I'd rather not be a bore.

thereallyniceman said:

Read it again Jody:

"They sound amazing, if a little let down by playing bluegrass "-)  How's about a bit of Classic Style, eh Chris?"

Let down because they were not playing Classic Style.

 Jokes always lose something when you have to explain them, don't they?

:-)))))))

As far as bluegrass and classic banjo, I do have to say that I was a bit apprehensive about posting the video in the first post, but Russ kept encouraging me to do it.

It was pretty personal for me, and I didn't know how bluegrass banjo players (most of our video audience) would react.

I've had quite a bit of really good response from several bluegrass banjo players by email who have been surprised to discover the style and that there is any 5 string banjo connection to England at all...let alone some Britons actually made banjos.

So...I've been steering these folks to ning, the LOC recordings, British Pathe links, etc...

As I said in my first post, a lot of folks won't be attracted to or "get" classic banjo, but I am hearing from a few experienced bluegrass players that are, after being exposed to the concepts in the video.

So far, any bluegrass player that didn't know about classic banjo before, and I show them Tarrant Bailey JR playing "Snakes and Ladders".....well....let's just say that does have a positive effect on them!

When Bill Evans and I were touring as the Secret Life of Banjos, a good 35% of our program was classic banjo music. This always was well received by the bluegrass banjoists in the audience. The most puzzling reaction we got was from one Southern California player who liked the repertoire and the performance but told us that what we were doing *was* bluegrass banjo playing.  The only difference was nylon strings and and a different sort of banjo. He was wrong of course. We did not play roll patterns for one thing, and the melodies we played were not limited by 3 chords and the span of an octave, as most bluegrass *songs* do. (Songs have words. They are different from instrumentals). And there were a good number of other differences. But the reaction was still positive. 

Chris Cioffi said:

As far as bluegrass and classic banjo, I do have to say that I was a bit apprehensive about posting the video in the first post, but Russ kept encouraging me to do it.

It was pretty personal for me, and I didn't know how bluegrass banjo players (most of our video audience) would react.

I've had quite a bit of really good response from several bluegrass banjo players by email who have been surprised to discover the style and that there is any 5 string banjo connection to England at all...let alone some Britons actually made banjos.

So...I've been steering these folks to ning, the LOC recordings, British Pathe links, etc...

As I said in my first post, a lot of folks won't be attracted to or "get" classic banjo, but I am hearing from a few experienced bluegrass players that are, after being exposed to the concepts in the video.

So far, any bluegrass player that didn't know about classic banjo before, and I show them Tarrant Bailey JR playing "Snakes and Ladders".....well....let's just say that does have a positive effect on them!

That's great to hear, Jody....and I can't think of 2 better representatives of classic banjo than you and Bill....(you SLOB's, you).

I still really like Bill's video of his playing Ragtime Episode on the Cole's Eclipse on youtube.

Matter of fact, when folks respond with favorable curiosity to my video above, I send them the link to Bills' playing of that as well as your video page here on ning, Jody.

Folks who haven't heard it before are pretty surprised in a positive way........

Oh yes, we always referred to the duo as SLOB.  I can think of several better current representatives than me  but thank you for the compliment.   I'm just back from running some errands (actually I was walking) and half way between the grocery and the bank I remembered one pro bluegrass banjo player who did not respond positively to classic playing. It was back in 1990. He found it all "nice and polite" but lacking in drive and forward propulsion. I refrained from rolling my eyes and from saying "that's like criticizing Florida for its lack of snow."  Not all music is supposed to have the characteristics of bluegrass. 

Chris Cioffi said:

That's great to hear, Jody....and I can't think of 2 better representatives of classic banjo than you and Bill....(you SLOB's, you).

I still really like Bill's video of his playing Ragtime Episode on the Cole's Eclipse on youtube.

Matter of fact, when folks respond with favorable curiosity to my video above, I send them the link to Bills' playing of that as well as your video page here on ning, Jody.

Folks who haven't heard it before are pretty surprised in a positive way........

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