- Earl Scruggs
J.D. CROWE is perhaps the most respected and influential living bluegrass banjo player, known for his impeccable timing, clear rich tone, and original bluesy variations on the bedrock of bluegrass banjo playing first created by Earl Scruggs. Born in 1937 in eastern Kentucky, Crowe was greatly influenced by Scruggs’ playing which he experienced first-hand in his early years when the Flatt & Scruggs band played in his home town of Lexington.
Crowe’s career and reputation were first established during an extended stint with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mt. Boys starting in the mid-1950s when he was just 16. Following his time with Martin, J.D. started his own group, first called the Kentucky Mt. Boys, and then The New South. Crowe’s bands were always revered for the precision of their instrumental sound and three-part harmony, as well as a progressive approach to material, arrangements, and performance. Many major bluegrass talents who worked with Crowe went on to prominent bandleading careers of their own, including Doyle Lawson, Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Don Rigsby, and Jerry Douglas.
For his lifetime of accomplishments as both a bandleader and a leading light of the banjo, J.D. Crowe was inducted in the IBMA Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2012 he joined the Board of the Steve Martin Prize, succeeding the late Earl Scruggs. In 2016 at age 78 he announced his retirement from performing.
PETE WERNICK, “Dr. Banjo”, is renowned for his wide-ranging contributions to bluegrass music: innovative picking in trend-setting bands, instructional camps, books, videos, as a songwriter, and as long-term President of the International Bluegrass Music Association.
Discovering Earl Scruggs and bluegrass as a Bronx teenager in the 60s folk music scene, Pete went from Washington Square jams to organizing bands and launching a bluegrass radio show that is still on the air. While in Ithaca, NY finishing a PhD and working as a sociologist in the early 70s, he formed Country Cooking, which saw the first recordings of Pete and Tony Trischka, playing “twin banjos” on their original arrangements and tunes.
In the 70s Pete also wrote the breakthrough instructional books Bluegrass Banjo and Bluegrass Songbook, with sales now in the hundred thousands. Later books include How to Make a Band Work and Masters of the Five-String Banjo, coauthored with Trischka. A teacher of all stages of learning banjo, Pete originated banjo camps in 1980 and has created 10 instructional videos. In the 90s he offered the first bluegrass jam camps, and now heads the Wernick Method system of jam teaching, overseeing teachers nationwide and in 10 countries.
Based in Niwot, Colorado since 1976, as a performing and recording artist Pete is best known for Hot Rize, the legendary world-traveled bluegrass band he organized in 1978. The group toured full-time for 12 years and continues to record and perform each year. Pete’s playing has been described by Steve Martin as “lyrical”, and as the writer of numerous banjo tunes, bluegrass “hit” songs, and the purveyor of band styles known as “flexigrass”, he is an enduring creative force in American roots-based music.
Pete served from 1986-2001 as the first President of the IBMA, and has received that organization’s Entertainer of the Year and Distinguished Achievement Awards. He feels honored to serve and be part of the worldwide bluegrass community.
Tony Trischka is one of the most influential banjo players in the roots music world. In his 40 plus years as a professional musician, his stylings have inspired generations of bluegrass and acoustic players.
He’s been nominated twice for a Grammy award.
His album Territory (Smithsonian Folkways) was named Best Americana Album at the Independent Music Awards.
He produced Steve Martin’s Grammy nominated Rare Bird Alert (Rounder), featuring performances by Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks.
Tony was the musical director and associate producer of the documentary Give Me the Banjo, which aired on PBS.
As one of the instrument’s top teachers he has created numerous instructional books, DVDs, CDs and the groundbreaking Tony Trischka School of Banjo that is the online banjo home for students from around the world.
Tony has received a fellowship from United States Artists.
NOAM PIKELNY has emerged as the preeminent banjoist of his generation, and the greatest color-blind banjoist of all-time. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as the “pros’ top banjo picker,” Noam is a founding member of Punch Brothers, a string ensemble which The Boston Globe calls “a virtuosic revelation” and The New Yorker describes as “wide- ranging and restlessly imaginative.” In September of 2010, Pikelny was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Pikelny is a 3-time Grammy Award Nominee and his most recent release, Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, was described by the New York Times as “a token of reverence, a feat of translation and a show of dominion”. The album is widely considered a landmark recording in acoustic music, and was named “Album of the Year” at the 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.
Noam was added to the Prize Board in 2015, five years after being awarded the initial Prize.
Alison Brown doesn’t play the banjo. Alison Brown plays music on the banjo.
Thousands of three-finger style banjo players have since made their marks, but none has cut such a path or moved so far along it as has 2015 IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award and 2001 GRAMMY Award-winning musician/composer/producer/entrepreneur Alison Brown. She’s acclaimed as one of today’s finest progressive banjo players, but you rarely find her in a conventional bluegrass setting. Instead, she’s known for leading an ensemble that successfully marries a broad array of roots-influenced music: folk, jazz, Celtic and Latin.
Although banjos typically play “tunes” or “breakdowns,” in Alison Brown’s hands, the banjo truly sings. Part of that is the result of the modifications she’s made to her signature model Prucha 5-string, muting the usual harsher overtones and extraneous noises, emphasizing the sweetness and melodicism. But mostly, it’s her unique musical vision. Brown never wastes a note, never launching into banjo tsunamis just because she can; stopping her precision three-finger roll to leave space for a lyric or other instrumental voice when appropriate.
A native of the western United States, Rosenberg has a BA in History from Oberlin College and the MA and PhD in Folklore from Indiana University. He is Professor Emeritus of Folklore at Memorial University, where he taught from September 1968 until his retirement in September 2004.
Rosenberg specialized in the study of contemporary folk music traditions, investigating the ways in which popular music interacts with local and regional folk music traditions, and examining processes of cultural revival.
He conducted research in Canada and the United States, focusing upon the lives and music of professional, semi-professional and amateur old-time, bluegrass, country and folk musicians. A performing musician since childhood, Rosenberg utilized his skills and experiences in bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, classical and experimental music to gain a closer understanding of the processes he studied.
His books include Bluegrass: A History (1985), the definitive work on that form of music, which was reprinted with a new preface for its 20th Anniversary Edition in 2005. Other books include Transforming Tradition(1993), a collection of studies on North American folk music revivals; Bluegrass Odyssey: A Documentary in Pictures and Words(2001) co-authored with photographer Carl Fleischhauer of the Library of Congress; and The Music of Bill Monroe (2007), co-authored with Charles K. Wolfe. He has published over seventy-five articles and review essays. In 1981 he originated the column “Thirty Years Ago This Month” in Bluegrass Unlimited, and wrote it until 1993.
Formerly Recorded Sound Reviews Editor of theJournal of American Folklore, he has edited and written notes for many recordings, including a contribution to the brochure for the Smithsonian/Folkways reissue of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music for which he won a 1997 Grammy Award. His notes for Compass’s Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Best Liner Notes” award in 2014.
Rosenberg is a Fellow of the American Folklore Society, recipient of the Marius Barbeau Medal for lifetime achievement from the Folklore Studies Association of Canada, and a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with Bela Fleck, there are some who say he’s the world’s premier banjo player. Others claim that Béla has virtually reinvented the image and the sound of the banjo through a remarkable performing and recording career that has taken him all over the musical map and on a range of solo projects and collaborations. If you are familiar with Béla, you know that he just loves to play the banjo, and put it into unique settings.
Béla was born on July 10,1958 and raised in New York City. While watching The Beverly Hillbillies as a young boy, the bluegrass sounds of Flatt & Scruggs flowed out of the TV set and into his young brain. Earl Scruggs’s banjo style hooked Béla’s interest immediately. “It was like sparks going off in my head,” he later said.
The banjo didn’t become a full time passion until ’73, when his grandfather coincidentally bought him one.
In recent years he’s found himself bouncing between various intriguing touring situations, such as duos with Chick Corea, Chris Thile and Abigail Washburn, in a trio with Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer, performing his concertos with symphonies, concerts with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, performances with African artists such as Oumou Sangare and Toumani Diabate, in jazz collaboration with The Marcus Roberts Trio, rare solo concerts and doing bluegrass with his old friends. And after nearly 30 years, the Flecktones are still performing together.
The recipient of multiple Grammy Awards and nominations going back to 1998, Béla Flecks’ total Grammy count is 15 Grammys won, with 30 nominations. He has been nominated in more categories than any instrumentalist in Grammy history.
Steve Martin’s work has earned him an Academy Award®, five Grammy® awards, an Emmy®, the Mark Twain Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor.
Martin began his career on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” (1967-1969), for which he earned his first Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy, Variety or Music in 1969. In the mid-1970s, Martin shone as a stand-up on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Martin’s films are widely popular successes and are the kind of movies that are viewed again and again: The Jerk (1979), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), Roxanne (1987), Parenthood (1989), L.A. Story (1991), Father of the Bride (1991), and Bowfinger (1999).
As an author, Martin’s work includes the novel An Object of Beauty, the play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel, a bestselling novella, Shopgirl, and his memoir Born Standing Up. His writing often appears in The New Yorker. His latest play, Meteor Shower debuts at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater this August.
Steve Martin is also an accomplished Grammy Award-winning, boundary-pushing bluegrass banjoist and composer. In 2013, Steve Martin released his third full-length album called Love Has Come For You, a unique collaboration with songwriter Edie Brickell. Love Has Come For You, won a Grammy® for “Best American Roots Song” for the title track and inspired the Broadway musical Bright Star. Bright Star received five Tony Award nominations and also received Outstanding New Broadway Musical and Outstanding New Score at the Outer Critics Circle Awards. Martin and Brickell’s second album together, So Familiar, was released on Rounder Records in October 2015, featuring 12 remarkable new songs that bring the acclaimed duo’s musical collaboration into fresh creative territory.