Banjos are such unique instruments and can generate some strong feelings - both love and hate. There are a multitude of jokes and cartoons associated with it as such as the cartoon that shows a conductor's idea of Hell as being a place where he is forced to lead an orchestra of banjo players. And then there's the story of Sidney Bechet, who was imprisoned for shooting a banjo player (I don't know if it was personal or Bechet just didn't like his playing). My own experiences include the time I played with a band and just before we started our first song, the trumpet player looked at me, and in a very serious tone said, "I never liked the banjo." I guess I must have done alright since I'm still alive to tell the story.
While most people associate the banjo with bluegrass (of which I have a great appreciation), growing up in New Orleans, I always heard the banjo as part of jazz music. I can't recall any specific times in my childhood when I remember hearing the banjo, but I later learned that my maternal grandmother, Estella Joseph Walker, played the banjo and guitar. Maybe those banjo genes were mighty strong, because when the banjo is in my hands, I feel as though I know how it's supposed to sound.
Recently, I attended a conference in North Carolina that focused on the role of the banjo in American music and its journey from Africa to the western world. I had the honor of performing with Cheik Hamala DIabate, who descends from a long line of griots from the African country of Mali. He was there to demonstrate the "ngoni," an African instrument thought to be the precursor of the banjo. Afterwards, he told my wife that playing with me was like playing with his family. For me there is no greater compliment.
A new appreciation of my Creole heritage, representing the blending of African, European and Caribbean cultures, prompted me to put together this CD of music inspired by both the pulse of New Orleans jazz and the flavor of the Caribbean. Jelly Roll Morton once spoke of the Latin tinge in New Orleans music, and although my awareness of this connection came later in life, I have always felt it. This may be the reason that many people have said, "you don't sound like most banjo players." I'm not always sure if this is a compliment or not, but in many ways, it has become the raison d'etre for this recording.
Included are original compositions as well as some standards, all of which feature the banjo as a lead instrument. They represent my life experience, my Creole culture and the many musicians, past and present, who serve as inspirations.
I am fortunate that music occupies such an important part of my life and I hope that my music adds to your enjoyment.
La prochaine (till the next time)