Jam With the Pros
When a guy like Darren Nicholson of Balsam Range invites you to a jam, make sure to go. The room was full of Asheville’s best; people I had seen over the years on stage with a number of bands. Some of them were the featured performers on the show that night. There was not a weak player in the room. Their trio work was so strong it’d thump you in the chest from five feet away. No need for microphones here.
I went to another session for a while I’d been invited to, but Darren said to come back. When I walked in they had taken a break. Nicky Sanders of ‘The Steep Canyon Rangers’ was there. I’d just heard him on the big stage a few hours earlier.
I extended my hand. “Great playing man. I believe you’ve had some classical training.”
“Oh, a little.” He smiled. I suspected it was a lot more than that.
“And a bit of jazz too?”
“Yes.” He eyed my case. “We’ve got two fifths of a band here. Let’s play.”
Someone handed a guitar to Caleb, the red-hot flat picker of Balsam Range. Mike picked up the bass out of the corner. Some kid I didn’t know sang ‘Down in the Willow Garden’ so high and clear it’d ’bout break glass. It was on. A crowd gathered. Some of them had accents that weren’t hillbilly, but they sang along on several songs. Someone said they were from Finland.
It was everything from “Minor Swing’ to ‘Little Cabin Home in the Hill.” I’m don’t play at level of these guys, but they didn’t complain. Nicky called for ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe.’ It’s one of those tunes that came in from across the pond. I hadn’t played it in years and my version was rough style.
There wasn’t anything rough style about Nicky Sanders fiddle work. This guy had total mastery of the bow. Even the highest notes were perfect in intonation. He was the best fiddler I’ve ever stood beside in a jam, and the first person I’ve heard in a long time who can hold his own with Micheal Cleveland. A true candidate for fiddler of the year here.
My usual rule these days is to turn into a doc at midnight, but I broke it for this one and stayed up too late. I’ve got to strap on a stethoscope instead of a mandolin tomorrow so I’ll take a nap today, but I’ll be ready.
When I get a break Wednesday I’m gonna relearn ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe.’ If I’m gonna get to jam with the pros I’m gonna be ready for that too.
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