Laurence Juber and Martin Guitars at the Metropolitan Museum

At the Met: From Guitarmania to Beatlemania

With Dick Boak and Laurence Juber

The Metropolitan Museum of Art gave a lecture about Martin Guitars, featuring Dick Boak, who has worn many hats at Martin and now is the company’s chief archivist, historian and head of the Martin museum. He was joined by two-time Grammy award winner Laurence Juber, who is among the finest guitarists of this or any era. Juber’s first book, Guitar with Wings, is set for release in May 2014, and features his personal photography from the years he spent as a member of Paul McCartney and Wings.

This presentation was in conjunction with the almost year-long exhibit of early American guitars at the Met, with the great majority of those guitars made by C.F. Martin Sr., who arrived from Saxony in the 1833 to set up business in New York City, before moving shortly thereafter to Nazareth, PA. That is where his great, great, great, grandson runs the family business today.

Jayson Kerr Dobney, Associate Curator in the Met’s Musical Instrument department was the primary organizer of the exhibit, and he opened today’s events with a short slideshow detailing Martin’s background, and explaining how Martin experimented his way to the designs that gave rise to the modern guitar as we know it. This part of the presentation focused on the recent scholarship that resulted in the book Inventing The American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and His Contemporaries. It is a most impressive work, which will soon be reviewed here.

Boak’s portion of the hour+ event was called “Guitarmania to Beatlemania.” As he ran a slideshow, he provided often humorous commentary and firsthand anecdotes, while Laurence Juber provided musical excerpts on various guitars from the Martin museum, as well as adding many of his own interesting comments and historical references.

After brief history of string instruments, which led to the evolution of the long neck lutes, and eventually the guitar, Boak turned his attention to the history of the Martin Guitar Company.

There was one ukulele present, an instrument Martin made in great numbers during the Hawaiian music craze that swept the nation beginning in 1916. As for vintage guitars, there was a pre-Civil War 2-1/2-20, with translates to size 2-1/2 with a price of $20. In modern times, the “style” number refers to specific aesthetic appointments, with the higher numbers costing the most. Professional level Martins today start at just under $2,000, with many costing much more.

This guitar was strung with gut strings, like a classical guitar, but it had an early version of the now famous X-brace pattern of struts supporting the spruce soundboard, the Martin innovation that revolutionized guitar making and led directly to today’s steel string acoustic guitars.

Next came a 1929 Ditson 111, made by Martin for the Ditson department store, also starting in 1916. Enormous by the standards of the day, the largest Ditson models earned the nickname Dreadnought, after the British battleships. Martin’s D size went on to be the most popular guitar design of all time. In addition, there were modern replicas of two famous guitars, the 000-45 Jimmie Rodgers model, and the D-28 Hank Williams. Rodgers is considered the father of country music, and Williams the heir to that legacy. Juber also had his own Martin artist signature model on hand, the OMC-28B. While each guitar had a soundboard made of one sort of spruce or another, the Ditson 111 had a back and sides made out of mahogany, and the other guitars present were of Brazilian rosewood.

As the presentation went forward, Juber would play short examples, some planned, others were improvised. In fact he was cracking Boak up at times, as some name would be mentioned as the slides went by, say, Jimmie Rodgers, and suddenly there were strains of “He’s in the Jailhouse Now,” or “Mrs. Robinson” for Paul Simon, etc. But Juber also played some early guitar music on the 2-1/2-20 by an Italian Renaissance composer, which he sight-read from a music stand. And then he dropped the guitar into Open G tuning to show how various composers often wrote outside of standard tuning. These included some of the earliest guitar music composed and published in America, along with Franz Gruber’s “Silent Night.” And then he got into more of his own sort of music as the talk shifted to the modern era.

In the middle of it all Boak played a video he put together with footage from recently discovered film shot at the Martin factory in 1939, showing a small staff performing the traditional tasks involved in handmade guitars, still practiced on a much larger scale at the modern factory.

Laurence Juber did play three longer selections during the event. The first was most of Lonnie Johnson’s “6/88 Glide,” which was recorded in 1927 and stands as the earliest guitar solo on record. He pointed out how it has many features and techniques we still associate with rock or blues solos today.

Laurence Juber then and now

Laurence Juber and Martin guitars – Yesterday and Today

Once the timeline got up to the Beatles, the guitarist choose “I Saw Her Standing There” as his demonstration piece. It is remarkable to watch Mr. Juber in action, as he played the fast-paced bass part running through the entire piece, while also playing the vocal melody and often the vocal harmony parts as well, and the guitar solo when the time comes. The slideshow at that point displayed photos of all the various members of the Beatles playing Martin guitars, with even Ringo having a go at a Martin D-28 while John played drums.

And then the proceedings closed with Juber’s killer version of “Only a Paper Moon,” by Harold Arlen. An earlier rendition of which can be seen on YouTube, HERE.

The previous Wednesday, Laurence Juber gave concert at the Cutting Room, on 32nd Street, in Manhattan.

He was in fine form, and put on one heck of show! Using various guitar tunings, he covered a wide range of material, with originals and many of his most impressive arrangements. And for the encore, out came a cajón, one of those rhythm boxes you sit on and play with your hands. And to play it was none other than Steve Holley, who was the drummer in Wings during the same years that LJ was a member. Holley has been Ian Hunter’s drummer for the past quarter century or so.

They performed the “Rockestra Theme,” which earned each man their first Grammy, as well as Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Juber pointed out that when they recorded “Rockestra” at Abby Road Studios, they had three drummers, Steve, John Bonham, and Kenny Jones, along with five guitarists, four bass players, etc. So this was the “acoustic version.” And it was indeed a treat to see him render the general feel of the mass orchestration on one small Martin guitar, with help from the rattle and thump of the cajón.

As Steve Holley put it, Juber “just keeps getting better and better.” And I would have to agree. I am sorry he didn’t get to play more at the Met today, as the crowd was clearly wowed by what they witnessed.

And he will be wowing audiences all over the place in the coming weeks, including California, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virgina. A full schedule is available at this website.

And that is one man’s word on …

Laurence Juber & Martin Guitars at the Met

Learn more about Martin Guitars HERE

Related Articles:

Early American Guitars at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

CD Review – Laurence Juber, Under the Indigo Sky

Scots Were Hae in the Pipes and Fiddle Concert

Tartan Week is winding down in New York City, and I am pleased to have witnessed one of the most satisfying events – the Pipes and Fiddle Concert at Jalopy, in Brooklyn, on Thursday evening.

There was an opening section featuring players who frequent the weekly Monday night Scottish music session at Iona, in Williamsburg, which was blazing good fun. And then a series of very special guest artists from out of town took the stage and raised the roof on the place.

The award-winning multi-instrumentalist Troy MacGillivray topped a bill that included fiddler extraordinaire Katie McNally and her pianist Neil Pearlman. And not to be out shown, Ben Miller likewise performed a thrilling set on the small pipes in duet with his musical partner, fiddler Anita MacDonald. There wasn’t an untapped foot among the audience all night long. But with such vigorous music throughout, foot stomping was more often the case.

It has been at least three years since I performed at Jalopy, that quirky, delightful theater in Brooklyn, just around the corner from the Battery Tunnel entrance, in the less-traveled area between Carroll Gardens and Redhook. There one can take music lessons, buy used guitars, have dinner and a pint, and see all sorts of live performances, six nights a week. All in an intimate setting, with high ceilings, brick walls, rows of church pews, and a real stage with a top notch sound system, run by a top notch soundman.

When I played there, I was appearing as a member of the Highland Shatners, and on a bill with Bargainland. Both acts do some traditional Celtic music in a less than traditional way, as well as more contemporary fare. And there was a member of both bands taking part in the concert I saw last night.

Matt Diaz, aka Flutie Shatner, was sitting in during the first section, strumming time in the Celtic DADGAD tuning on his Lowden guitar, made in Northern Ireland for just such occasions. Diaz was also responsible for the exhibit of photographs lining the theater walls, featuring players from traditional music sessions, like the one at Iona. In fact, there appeared to be included at least one photo of every person on the stage, among many others. The exhibition of photos will be up for another two weeks.

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Scots fiddle photos exhibit Scots fiddle gallery color1

Karen Brown, of Bargainland, with whom I have shared many a Burn’s Night Supper and Scots music concert, was the chief organizer of the event, and took her place next to Matt to contribute some fine fiddling, along with her magnificent Scottish brogue during introductions.

After a boisterous opening session by all of the Iona sessionists, there were featured a series of players in mini-sessions, often accompanied by guitarist Max Carmichael, on a well played-in Gibson J-45 (in what appeared to be Drop D tuning.) The fiddle of Calum Michael took up the banner first, followed by Amy Beshara, Andrew Forbes, and John Nevin. Each did themselves proud and the overall musicianship was truly outstanding. But if anyone stole the red ribbon from the rest, it had to be Ms. Beshara. The infectious joy that beamed from her and her fiddle strings was reflected by the audience, and set us up for all that came after.

Piper Ben Miller hails from Edinburgh, Scotland, but grew up in Upstate New York. His partner, the fiddler-violist Anita MacDonald, was born and raised on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Their destinies joined when they met during a Celtic music festival and appeared to be very much in lockstep, given the fast-paced jigs and strathspey dance tunes they tossed off in absolute unison during their section of the concert. Afterwards, I discovered they were aged 25 and 22 years, respectively, and each of these excellent musicians picked up their instruments while in grammar school. Both humbly insisted they had a long way to go. As I have often recognized in fellow guitarists, there isn’t a serious player, on any level, who doesn’t feel that way in some respects or have at least one other musician they only wish they could play like. I am sure there are plenty out there who wish they could play like Miller and MacDonald.

While much of the evening was filled with folk music and dance tunes from the Celtic tradition of Scotland, Brittany, Nova Scotia, and the Galicia region of Northern Spain, there were several modern, original compositions offered up as well. These included the hypnotic “Tombs” performed on a low whistle by Andrew Forbes, during the concert’s opening section, as well as the beautiful pieces played beautifully by guest fiddler Katie McNally

Ms. McNally and Mr. Pearlman are from Massachusetts, but the music they chose for their duets was from all over. McNally pointed out they weren’t playing “super” traditional selections, before playing a piece by “a Bangladeshi Bluegrass player from Wisconsin.” Masterful and energetic, their set filled the theater with aural radiance, as Pearlman’s rhythmic undercurrents and jazzy, spontaneous swells rose up to fill in and around McNally’s soaring melodies.

And then it came time for Troy MacGillivray. More than one of the participating musicians referred to him as their “hero” and so expectations were high when he took the stage for the final section of the concert. His performance was higher still. A recipient of the queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for outstanding contributions to culture in Canada, the native of Lanark, Nova Scotia plays a long list of musical instruments. Tonight he performed a rousing piano duet with Neil Pearlman, and then picked up the fiddle that made him famous to calmly wow the crowd, while generously offering various members of the ensemble the opportunity to share the stage as accompanists.

As satisfying as the entire concert was, it was a privilege to sit in the front row and watch the nuanced performance that unfolded at the end of the evening. I feel sorry for those who were unable to stay long enough to see MacGillivray’s final set of jigs that made me want to push all the pews to back and open up a dance floor, even if I don’t know a single step.

As the midnight hour approached, the headliner asked the other two guest fiddlers to join him for an impromptu jam. So with Neil Pearlman on piano, MacGillivray, McNally, and MacDonald got down, opened up, and took off, to the delight of everyone fortunate enough to witness it, and stomp along from the audience. That also included Pearlman and MacDonald who each left their instrument for a time and broke into a spontaneous dance. And then the young Andrew Forbes was inspired to leap up the steps to the stage, with his border pipes strapped on, and joined in without missing a beat. Together they brought the evening to a spectacular finish.

Karen Brown said afterwards that there is every expectation for a similar concert next year. But if you cannot wait that long to get your fix of fiddle sticks, DADGAD tuning, and the border pipes, do feel free to stop by Iona, on Grand Street in Williamsburg for some pints on Monday nights, as there you will find many a talented musician taking part in the weekly session. And if you are a musician yourself who would like to join in, all the better.

And for those who missed the concert this year, here is a taste of the final jam session.

And that is one man’s word on…

The Pipes and Fiddle Concert at Jalopy

For more information on the session at Iona, click HERE

To see more of Matt Diaz’s photos of traditional session musicians, click HERE (coming soon)

Official websites of: Troy MacGillivray, Katie McNally, Ben Miller