Bushrangers March was composed for 5-string banjo by Bert Bassett (1894-1937), probably in about 1912. Piano part by Hampton Smith. Rendered here on 5-string...

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Comment by TONY BRYAN on October 25, 2020 at 10:13

This early piece by Bert Bassett has a catchy but unusual title. I found this entry for Bushranger in a 1920 copy of Harmsworth Encyclopaedia:

‘Bushranger. Australian term, originally applied to escaped convicts, or to one who subsisted in the bush by robbery under arms. The early history of Australia was marked by repeated outbreaks of this form of brigandage. In 1815 martial law was proclaimed in one district, and in New Sough Wales in 1830 and again in 1834 stringent repressive measures were taken. Among noted bushrangers may be mentioned Michael Howe (The King of the Rangers), shot in 1818; William John Westwood (Jacky Jacky), executed in 1846; and Frederick Ward (Captain Thunderbolt), shot in 1870. In their last exploit the Kelly gang, led by Ned Kelly (hanged in 1880), are said to have worn suits or rude armour made from ploughshares, and iron helmets.’

This is the information that would have been available to Bert Bassett as to what a bushranger was, and I can’t find any mention from that period of any other connotation for bushranger. So, the question is: did Bert deliberately name the piece after the Australian bushwackers, or are there other ‘bushrangers’?

Tony

Comment by Richard William Ineson on October 25, 2020 at 10:48
An interesting tune nicely played, you don't hear Bert's pieces played very often. I used to do 'A Coon Song' but audiences didn't really understand the concept of a 'song without words' and 'Jumbo Rag' which I still play along with other things, now and again whilst watching TV. 'Patagonian Picnic' is also good.
Comment by TONY BRYAN on October 25, 2020 at 12:10

Thanks, Richard. 'Song Without Words' was on the top of my hit list for quite a while, and I would urge all banjo players to give it a try.  It has two things going for it: it is played as slowly and as expressively as you want, so no fireworks; it is full of innovative chord sequences that are typically Bert Bassett.  Bert was something of a prodigy and a multi-instrumentalist, and that comes through in his music.  His pieces have musical structures that are not mirrored in any other banjo composer's works.  There are some musical novelties in Bushrangers, but they are not as well developed as in other pieces, which is why I think this is one of his early efforts.  

Regards

Tony

Comment by Richard William Ineson on October 25, 2020 at 12:23
Yes,I agree. I forgot about 'On the Ganges' which is another now which I played in the past with Bill Ball. As regards the 'Bushrangers' I wonder if Bert really understood that they were gangsters/highwaymen? Kelly and the rest of them operated in the 1860s I think, perhaps Bert thought that Bushrangers went round picking up litter and stopping people having camp fires?
Comment by thereallyniceman on October 25, 2020 at 12:29

Wow that is some piece. Bassett's composition really does have a "different" musical style to most other tunes that I have struggled through.  Maybe Clifford Essex was the man behind him, eh Tony?

Youtube stardom beckons for Tapis!

Comment by Rob Murch on October 25, 2020 at 17:02

Great playing as always Tony. I love the trio in Bushrangers. Bert Bassett really did write some cracking tunes.!

Comment by Pär Engstrand on October 26, 2020 at 0:06

Very nice playing! Your left hand technique is so relaxed. It really is a dream to watch. I can almost feel my wrists phyisically relax while watching you play. And really nice thumb work. Love it!

Comment by TONY BRYAN on October 27, 2020 at 13:43

Thank you all for the kind comments.

Pär (alt-u-a) brings up an interesting point about fingering, and I wonder if anyone has also observed that different composers must have had different characteristics, given they all played banjos with similar scale lengths.  As an example: I suspect that Parke Hunter had long fingers as his compositions often have stretches over four and five frets that other composers don't.  On the other hand, Morley doesn't go in for long stretches, but he must have had a strong hand to be able to play his charateristic 4th string melodies while playing a chord on the other strings.  Bert Bassett compositions don't seem to have long stretches and don't require much left hand strength, but they do require a certain agility to move quickly between unfamiliar chord sequences.  Grimshaw is fairly middle-of-the-road and more of a tricky right-hand man at times, which probably accounts for his compositions being favourites with banjo players at that time. 

Anyone else have any views on this topic?

Regards

Tony

Comment by Jody Stecher on October 27, 2020 at 14:39

And Cammeyer composed music requiring long finger stretches as well.  Do we know for a fact that the various composers played banjos with similar or identical scale length? Banjos available to the mentioned composers would have had scales ranging from 26.5 to 28.5 inches.

Comment by Steve Harrison on October 28, 2020 at 8:43

The score for Bushrangers has now been added to the library, it's a copy of a copy but I've cleaned it up as best I could...Steve.

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