Funk Banjo of Dan Gellert

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by Frank Basile (http://donegone.net):

Dan Gellert. All you have to do is say the name to invoke awe. He was already legendary more than 30 years ago with his funky, restless playing and now represents a whole way of looking at the music. He has what seems to be an endless capacity to turn the smaller internal phrases of old-time music around and around, nudging them rhythmically and embellishing them melodically.

We’re not talking about jazz, here… the individual moves aren’t particularly revolutionary… harmony is not re-invented… the melody is never completely abandoned.. but the overall effect is damned amazing. Anyone looking to do a “tight duet” with Dan is going to be disappointed. He’s NOT going to stand still, period. No it’s not jazz.

It’s FUNK.

If you look at his banjo playing from a technical perspective, you’ll find a couple of things to note. In his clawhammer playing, Dan’s music is notably “chordless.” This gives his music a stark, linear quality. In terms of note quality, he also likes the notes ‘between the frets,’ and has a way of generating that feeling even on a fretted banjo, although he really flies on fretless banjos of all kinds.

You’ll also note that, eschewing chords in general, he doesn’t fill up rhythmic space with a bunch of clutter. Every note matters… and when I say that, the spaces BETWEEN the notes matter, too. The basic ingredients of the right (picking) hand are also pretty traditional: basic stroke, drop-thumb, occasional double thumb, galax lick – it’s the service to which these things are put.

Any one of these can be employed at any point in the tune to nudge the rhythm along or to inject syncopation. Dan likes to surprise himself – he’s not attached to perfection.. just the fun of being in the moment.

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