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Monday, September 27, 2010

New York is Bluegrass Country

I was once discussing prominent blues musicians struggling to make a living with a jazz musician who concurred and told me he had often seen world class jazz musicians playing to near empty bars. So, if you like meeting and mingling with life's movers and shakers in music, just shift your interest from mainstream popular genres.

In rock music, a man like Roger Sprung would be most likely with layered with security and screeners with little hope of a meeting. At the 2010 annual bluegrass reunion on Sunday, September 27, in Washington Square Park, Roger was easily approachable between sets.

Roger was born in Manhattan in 1930, A pioneer and the father of Newgrass banjo, he is credited with introducing authentic banjo music to the North. He was introduced to piano at age seven by his nanny and took lessons at age 10. Subsequently, his interest turned to guitar and then banjo, which he taught himself by listening to recordings of legends like Earl Scruggs.

Starting in 1947, Roger was introduced to the folk country scene in Washington Square Park by his brother George. In 1950, he made the first of what was to be many trips to bluegrass country, starting in Asheville, North Carolina. In Folk Songs of Greenwich Village in the 1950's and 1960's, bluegrass historian and performer Ralph Lee Smith wrote, "Banjo player Roger Sprung almost single-handedly introduced Southern bluegrass music to New York through his playing in Washington Square." Roger has performed with a myriad of legendary musicians and in a number of venues and on television. He is currently a resident of Connecticut, and his website can be found here.

Interest in bluegrass music has been growing in New York City with local players like Sheriff Bob, who has run the weekly bluegrass jam for years (formerly at the Baggot Inn, now at the Grisley Pear), Gene Tambor of Minetta Creek, and guitar virtuoso Scott Samuels who in recent years has added more bluegrass to his repertoire. New York City is ripe with bluegrass activities in various clubs, bars, parks and outdoor festivals. Classes can be readily found, along with equipment in various shops.

Bluegrass aficionados, performers and enthusiasts abound, and for those who want a taste or a full meal of bluegrass music need not look further afield than than this city. With a feather in your cap like Roger Sprung, it is easy to aver that along with all the other great things about this city, New York is bluegrass country :)


Anonymous said...

Bluegrass is great to the story!

Washington Square Park said...

Nice shot and great post. I love walking through washington square park and catching the sound of the banjo somewhere - I play myself and it's always humbling to hear real musicians like this guy pick'n.