Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Czech Bluegrass Documentary Project News

Last summer, when I went into the studio in Prague to help with the recording of Druha Trava's CD Shuttle to Bethlehem, I ended up hanging out and traveling a bit with Lee Bidgood, an American fiddler and mandolinist who teaches at East Tennessee State University, which has a Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies program -- and his colleague from ETSU, the documentary filmmaker Shara Lange.

Lee did his PhD on Czech Bluegrass (we met in 2004 at the Caslav Bluegrass Festival in CZ) and he and Shara are making a documentary film on Czech Bluegrass music and musicians -- I am thrilled to be onboard as a sort of consultant or production assistant....

The film now has a web site -- you can click HERE to find out information, see some video, hear some music and find out more about the project, screenings, events, etc.

One upcoming event is a concert August 8, in Johnson City, TN, at which Lee and fellow musicians will perform Czech translations of bluegrass classics as well as original material by Czech bluegrass musicians, in both Czech and English.

Here's a clip I took of Lee jamming late a night with Lubos Malina, of Druha Trava.

During out brief travels last summer, we also visited Marko Cermak, the godfather of five-string banjo playing in  CZ, at his cabin in the woods. 

Interviewing Marko Cermak. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

According to his own and other accounts, Cermak, who was active in the Czech tramp music scene, built his own long-necked, five-string banjo by studying photographs taken of Pete Seeger at Seeger's seminal 1964 concert in Prague concert. Cermak went on to become one of Czechoslovakia's first banjo virtuosi.

Marko Cermak. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Among other things, Cermak founded one of Czechoslovakia's first American-style country and bluegrass groups, the Greenhorns. The Greenhorns became extremely influential by playing Czech language versions of American folk songs, copying arrangements they heard on American Forces Radio.  In doing so, they, and similar groups, brought these songs firmly into the local musical tradition, fostering a total assimilation of many songs into the Czech repertoire. 

After visiting Marko, we went on to spend the night at the home of banjoist and banjo-maker Zdenek Roh, near Jihlava, where I had visited the previous year with Lubos Malina and Robert Krestan of Druha Trava.

Zdenek Roh. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

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