The Beat Goes On: Banjo master in Amherst, Diana Krall in Northampton, and more

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 07-28-2023 10:37 AM

Long recognized as one of the modern masters of the banjo, Tony Trischka has been a big influence on different styles of progressive bluegrass and a guy who’s woven elements of other music — jazz, psychedelic pop, Great American Songbook tunes — into his playing.

In fact, Trischka’s had a big influence on another stellar banjo stylist, Béla Fleck, who took lessons from him for a while as a teenager until Trischka, as he notes on his website, told Fleck, “You don’t need lessons anymore. We’ll just kind of play and hang out.”

And with his friend and fellow banjo player Steve Martin, Trischka, who’s now 74, has helped raise the instrument’s profile in other ways, including through appearances on “Prairie Home Companion,” producing albums, composing music, and heading the musical ensembles for Broadway and off-Broadway productions.

Trischka, who comes to The Drake in Amherst on Aug. 5 at 8 p.m., says he was influenced in turn by another iconic banjoist: the late Earl Scruggs, who in the 1940s developed a unique three-finger style of picking that revolutionized bluegrass and made the banjo a much more prominent instrument in the genre.

Trischka says he first heard some Scruggs-style playing in the early 1960s, when he was 13, after which “I put down my folk guitar and mercilessly pestered my parents to buy me a banjo. Once in my hands, that five-string became my obsession and has been for 60 years.”

That’s prompted Trischka to develop a new touring show, “Earljam,” a tribute to Scruggs in which he and his band trace the man’s history and musical journey,  from his childhood in North Carolina to his final years (he died in 2012 at age 88).

“The depth of his genius becomes ever more apparent when I transcribe his solos,” Trischka notes. “Discovering new twists and turns in his playing is pure joy and in fact is the inspiration for this tribute show.”

Joining Trischka at The Drake will be guitarist/vocalist Michael Daves, fiddler Nate Lee, mandolinist Jacob Jolliff and bassist Jared Engel.

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Diana Krall has been piling up the accolades for over two decades now. The Canadian-born jazz pianist and singer has three Grammy Awards and eight Juno Awards, Canada’s top music prize, to her credit, not to mention millions of record sales.

She’s also the only jazz singer to have eight albums debut at the top of the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.

Krall, who comes to the Pines Theater at Look Park in Northampton Aug. 8, is particularly noted for her low, slightly husky vocals, which have helped propel her to international stardom, while also reinvigorating the role of the lead female jazz singer.

As the New York Times puts it, Krall possesses “a voice at once cool and sultry, wielded with a rhythmic sophistication.”

She’s also ignored musical boundaries. After first making her mark in the 1990s as a fresh interpreter of jazz standards, then recording an album paying tribute to Nat King Cole, she irked some reviewers by recording tracks with lush orchestration.

And Krall, who’s been married for 20 years to Elvis Costello, has embraced plenty of modern pop music, too, covering tunes such as “Just the Way You Are,” “California Dreaming,” “Desperado,” and “Walk On By,” which has also raised some critics’ eyebrows.

“I think my super-heroine cape has a few patches on it at the moment,” she joked with the Boston Globe a few years ago about these critical slings and arrows.

Her most recent album, last year’s “This Dream of You,” is named for her cover of the 2009 Bob Dylan song of the same name, though most of the album consists of jazz standards, popular songs, and Broadway tunes circa 1930s-1950s.

Krall’s Pines Theater show, part of an extended tour in the U.S. she’s doing with a small ensemble, takes place at 7 p.m.; doors open at 5 p.m.

 

Musically, the 1970s saw the first challenge to established rock music, as disco, punk, and then the British New Wave bands all pushed for a seat at the table.

But mainstream rock still had plenty of fans, and some of those sounds still get a listen today. You can hear them filtered through local singers when Rock Voices, the area’s only rock choir, takes the stage July 29 at Northampton’s Academy of Music at 7 p.m.

Rock Voices, a non-auditioned (except for solos) community choir started a decade ago in Northampton by musician and former area music teacher Tony Lechner, is open to anyone 18 years or older. There are now several branches of the chorus in other Massachusetts communities, as well as in Connecticut and New York state.

For the July 29 show, the 150-plus voice choir, backed by a live rock band, will be covering the music of some 15 artists from the 1970s, including The Doobie Brothers, Earth Wind & Fire, Pat Benatar, Supertramp, and Pure Prairie League.

The show is also slated to include a tribute to the late Gordon Lightfoot, a key songwriter from that era.

More music on tap

Blues veteran Watermelon Slim will be at the Shea Theater in Montague tonight (Friday, July 28) at 8 p.m. with special guests Pete Muller & the Kindred Souls.

Singer/songwriters Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst, who were rained out July 9 at Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield, will give it another try there tonight at 7 p.m. Fellow songwriter and guitar picker Chris Smither of Amherst plays Black Birch on July 30 at 7 p.m.; Zac Trojano opens.

The Bombyx Center in Florence features an evening of Arabic music July 29 at 7 p.m. with the Layaali Arabic Music Ensemble, which covers work by 19th- and early 20th-century masters, popular folk songs, and music by contemporary composers.

The group includes percussionist Michel Moushabeck, founder of Interlink Publishing in Northampton, and his nephew, accordionist Simon Moushabeck, who grew up in the region and now lives in New Orleans.

The Dylanesque singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, who goes by the name The Tallest Man on Earth, will be at Tree House Brewing in Deerfield on Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. He’s from Sweden but, like many Scandinavians, is fluent in English. Singer/songwriter Kate Davis opens.

Northampton’s free summer music series at Pulaski Park opens Aug. 4 at 6 p.m. with a blast from the past, as Lord Russ will play a solo show. Thus Love, a rocking band made up of three trans artists from Brattleboro, Vermont, shares the bill.

Aussie indie folk/pop singer and songwriter Julia Jacklin has been winning bigger audiences in the U.S. in recent years. She’ll be at Race Street Live at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on Aug. 5 at 8 p.m. Kara Jackson opens.

A musical fundraiser for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) scholarships for young female students takes place at the Northampton Center for the Arts on Aug. 6 at 4 p.m., with music by jazz/blues duo Blackbird & Applegate, singer-songwriter Louise Mosrie, and Valley swing band The O-Tones.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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