Two-time Juno-winning banjoist, composer and instigator Jayme Stone makes music inspired by sounds from around the world—bridging folk, jazz and chamber music. His award-winning albums both defy and honor the banjo’s long role in the world’s music, turning historical connections into compelling sounds.
Jayme Stone’s Folklife (2017) follows the bends ...
Jayme Stone’s Folklife : Sea Island Spirituals, Creole calypsos and stomp-down Appalachian dance tunes
The first time Jayme Stone set foot in the Library of Congress, he was in a rush. With only a few hours to spare before an evening show—and without a library card (or any academic credentials)—he was determined to discover some hitherto unheralded field recording. Fortunately, he found an enthusiastic ally in Todd Harvey, head of the Lomax Archive at the American Folklife Center.
Within minutes, Stone—banjoist, composer and instigator—was ushered into the underground stacks of the world’s largest library. Walking past a gold-embossed sign that read, “Archive of Folk Song,” he knew he’d found the Mother Lode. Stone held the first-ever Lead Belly recording from 1933 (on acetate disc), a box of letters from Woody Guthrie (including his son Arlo’s birth announcement) and Alan Lomax’s midcentury rolodex (“Do Not Give Out” written in red next to Pete Seeger’s number). But nothing prepared Stone for the unearthly crackle of hearing these old recordings in all their analog glory.
Stone was no newcomer to seeking the hidden histories behind the music he loved. At age 12 he was collecting bootleg tapes and by 15 making pilgrimages across the country to see the Grateful Dead. Curious and studious, Stone was always interested in the stories behind the sounds. “There’s an old Zen saying about how you shouldn’t ‘seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise,’” says Stone, “but rather ‘seek what they sought.’” So he did.
He traced the origin of the Dead’s repertoire and lyrical references to a book called the Old-Time String Band Songbook by the New Lost City Ramblers. “The Ramblers were to the folk revival what the beat poets were to the hippie movement,” says Stone. “They were on the front edge of a movement.” From their book, Stone discovered the music of Elizabeth Cotton, Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs and others. He started listening to Lomax’s field recordings and sending away for unreleased albums from the Smithsonian Folkways catalogue. They’d arrive in oversize boxes with mimeographed liner notes. He’d fallen down a deep well.
Fast forward twenty years to the new album—Jayme Stone’s Folklife—out April 7 on Borealis Records. It features singer extraordinaire Moira Smiley (tune-yArDs), Grammy-winning songster Dom Flemons (Carolina Chocolate Drops), cornetist Ron Miles (Bill Frisell), singer Felicity Williams (Bahamas) and more. It’s a follow-up to Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (2015) which brought together an all-star cast including Tim O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy and Julian Lage.
Jayme Stone’s Folklife follows the bends and bayous through the deep river of song and story. This gathering of versatile musicians blows the dust off of old songs and remakes them for modern ears. The album is a musical journey through the Appalachians, the Sea Islands and the Caribbean. With spellbinding singing and virtuosic playing, the repertoire reaches into the arcane corners of American roots music with shape note hymns, Gullah spirituals and Creole calypsos.
The record comes with detailed song notes as well as a series of bright, folkloric illustrations commissioned from artist Camilla Perkins. As Stone explains in the introduction, “In this age of monoculture, it’s no wonder that many of us seek nearly-forgotten artifacts from the past: an antique Radio Flyer wagon, a dog-eared first edition, a hymn as old as dirt. But I’m no collector, nor am I particularly nostalgic. I revel in the act of discovery. I want 33⅓ revelations per minute. I crave collaboration. So I gathered together fellow keen-eared musicians to help blow the dust off these carefully chosen songs, uncover their hidden histories, and till fresh soil to see what might spring forth from these sturdy seeds.”
Stone is the consummate collaborator, unearthing musical artifacts and magnetizing extraordinary artists to help rekindle these understudied sounds. He is a passionate educator and producer. Stone has been called the “Yo-Yo Ma of the banjo” (Globe and Mail) and his music has been featured on NPR, CBC, BBC and at venues across North America and abroad, including the Lincoln and Kennedy Centers. Jayme Stone’s Folklife is the prolific artist’s seventh album and he’s won two Juno and three Canadian Folk Music Awards.