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Review: Olitsky and Moskovitz Weave Beautiful Banjo Harmonies on "Duets"

What's better than a banjo? Two banjos! That's the case with "Duets," the new album by Mark Olitsky and Cary Moskovitz.

What makes this album soar is the very different playing styles of Olitsky and Moskovitz, as well as the distinct tonal properties of the banjos themselves.

Olitsky is playing clawhammer on a low-tuned, minstrel-style banjo that he built himself. Moskovitz brings the brighter tones, playing with a flat pick on a trio of four-string plectrum banjos: a 1922 Bacon “Orchestra A,” a 1928 Trujo and 1920 Orpheum No. 3.

Olitsky and Moskovitz got together at the 2016 Appalachian String Band Music Festival (aka Clifftop) to play some tunes. Olitsky had recently finished building his new banjo, and Moskovitz brought one of his plectrum banjos.

"We found the combination of these instruments enchanting," Moskovitz says. "Our banjo styles, each quirky in its own way, fit together in a manner that was both natural and exciting. We played banjo duets…
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Banjoversary: 9 Years on 5 Strings

Nine years ago is when I dipped my toe into the warm, welcoming waters of the banjo playing world.

I had spent the past six months researching and trying to figure which banjo to buy. At some point, I had ordered a set of picks and tuner as a commitment to myself that I was going to carry through with my plan.

The seed had been planted the year before when I read a blog post about buying your first guitar. The now-defunct blog specialized in Americana music and regularly featured groups like Old Crow Medicine Show, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Avett Brothers.

I had spent the the last four years building an obsession with the banjo through the music of those very same groups. Because much of the music that blog featured included the banjo, I wrote in asking if they had advice on buying a first banjo. Two of the blog's writers happened to play the five-string. One was a bluegrass player and the other was an old-time player.

I didn't know the difference.

Those guys gave m…

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Head of the Creek

Since declaring this The Year of Ward Jarvis earlier this year, I have dedicated myself to learning some tunes from the repertoire of Ward Jarvis, a fiddler who lived in Athens County, Ohio, and was an influence on a number of old-time musicians in the state.

Over the last couple months, I managed to track down the recordings of David Brose and digital copies of the two LPs he produced, thanks to some helpful folks at the Fiddle Hangout.

The first tune on my list was "Head of the Creek," played in AEAE. My primary source was Jarvis's playing on the Field Recorder's Collective release FRC402, with a transcription from the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes. I also have Jeff Goehring's version on FRC601.

In addition, there are some recordings available on YouTube, such as Jimmy Triplet, Kerry Blech and others. Some of those versions are played in GDGD. A few of the videos mention Lester McCumbers as the source, as in the Blech video he talks about t…

Event Preview: Lake Erie Folk Fest, Feb. 25

We've had a bit of a warm-up recently in Northeast Ohio. What better way to enjoy unseasonably nice weather than to hit up a music festival? If you're in the area, you're in luck. The second annual Lake Erie Folk Fest is Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Shore Cultural Center in Euclid, Ohio.

Among the free workshops, mini concerts, kids' activities, open jamming and the Grand Finale Concert, attendees will find plenty of old-time and banjo-centric fun.

Mark Olitsky will host two clawhammer banjo workshops, one for beginners and one for intermediate and advanced players. If you're a bluegrasser, don't worry. Paul Kovac will host host a pair of workshops to wet your appetite.

Dave Rice, Christina Tanczos and Joel Specht will host an old-time jam in what was once an orchestra practice room at the Shore Center, which was once a high school. If you're looking for something less structured, open jams will also be scattered throughout the building in various rooms, nooks …

Mark Olitsky, Cary Moskovitz Team Up for New Album

Once upon a time, I dubbed Mark Olitsky "the banjo wizard of Cleveland." Typically, he's the only banjo player in a group setting, so it might seem strange that he's joined forces with plectrum banjo player Cary Moskovitz on a new album, called "Duets," due out in April.

Instead of a crowdfunding campaign, which seems to have become ubiquitous in the old-time music world, the banjo duo has set up a page online to gauge interest.

You can visit the Olitsky & Moskovitz website (https://olitskymoskovitz.wordpress.com/) to sign up for a pre-order. Although this is not a true pre-order in the sense that it asks you to pay the $15, plus $5 shipping and handling, for the album. Instead, it's a pledge that signs you for email updates about album and how to order when it's available. Basically, it lets the musicians know how many CDs to produce.

According to their website, Olitsky and Moskovitz got together at last year's Clifftop festival to play som…

New Additions to My Old-Time Record Collection

A funny thing happened when I went to a celebration of my mother's 30-year work anniversary. I met a banjo player who just so happened to play with Tommy Jarrell. Near the end of the party, he comes back with a sealed copy of the 1976 album, "Joke on the Puppy."

Jarrell is backed by Steve Roberts on banjo and Chester McMillian on guitar. It's a solid album. I was most happy to have a version of Jarrell playing the eponymous tune, which I had picked up from Brad Leftwich's book, Learn Old-Time Fiddle: Round Peak Style. I've been trying to match my playing to the record, which has opened my eyes to some warts in my own fiddling.

Ever since my wife got me a record player for our living room as a birthday gift last summer, I've greatly expanded my old-time music collection on vinyl. Other pick-ups in the last year include Ed Haley "Parkersburg Landing," Grayson and Whittier "Early Classics, Vol. 2," Roscoe Holcomb "San Diego Folk Fest…

The Year of Ward Jarvis

As mentioned last time around, my new focus for old-time music is the Ohio River Valley, primarily Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. Musicians such as Ed Haley, John Salyer, Burl Hammons and many others. As an Ohio boy, born and raised, my natural inclination is to start with some Ohio fiddlers, like Lonnie Seymour, Arnold Sharp, Jimmy Wheeler and Jeff Goehring. But first up is Ward Jarvis.

Jarvis was born in West Virginia in 1894 and is said to have been influenced by Ed Haley. Jarvis then moved to Ohio for work in the 1940s, settling in Athens County. He was recorded by a few different people, including Jeff Goehring, Davis Brose and Ray Alden. His music appears on a release of Goehring's tapes by Field Recorders' Collective (FRC402), two LPs produced by Brose, "Traditional Music From Central Ohio" and "Rats Won't Stay Where There's Music," and one produced by Alden, "Visits."

My goal for the next year is to track down copies of those la…