For more than six decades, Alan Lomax wielded a microphone, collecting and archiving folk music from the U.S. and abroad.
This spring, noted banjo player and composer Jayme Stone, along with a team of collaborators, will release an album of music culled from the Lomax archive.
Fans who attend Stone’s show on Wednesday will not only have the chance to hear some of this music performed live, they’ll be among the first to be able to buy the album in advance of its March 3 release.
Stone, a Canadian now based on Colorado, said he’d been aware of Lomax’s work for years. About 20 years ago, when he first picked up the banjo, he’d read Lomax’s book “The Land Where the Blues Began,” which brought Lomax’s famed field recordings to his attention. He’s used those recordings as the basis for various projects.
“Little did I know until I started digging deep into this project how many people and songs that I already know and love and play were originally collected by Alan Lomax and his father, John,” Stone said.
Early in his career, when he was working for the Library of Congress, Lomax recorded landmark interviews with artists such as Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton and Woody Guthrie. He recorded jazz pioneers and poets, and people who were never famous.
It came together for Stone a couple years ago when he read “Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World,” a biography by John Szwed. “It connected all these dots and I started really focusing on his archive and exploring the people and traditions that he helped to preserve,” Stone said.
As he got to work picking the songs for the album, he originally had a “short list” of 100 songs that he considered for the project. His musicians brought in suggestions, too. He whittled it down to 20 songs, recorded during three different sessions using 15 musicians. “Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project” also comes with a 60-page booklet with song notes, an essay and photos.
The opening song, “Lazy John,” was one he hadn’t heard before, Stone said.
“I hunted for a few months to try to find out the source because it sounds like a traditional tune. It shares a title with a more well-known song called ‘Lazy John,’ but it wasn’t related in any way,” he said. “And it turns out (Lomax) actually wrote it. And it’s one of the only songs I know of that he actually wrote.”
The styles on the album vary. There are folk songs in that classic Americana- bluegrass-Appalachia tradition. There are songs from the British islands and the Caribbean. There are two songs from the Georgia Sea Islands, an African-American a capella tradition with roots in West Africa.
“A lot of what we think of as American music comes from elsewhere, or at least has its roots elsewhere,” Stone said. “That was one of the things I wanted to explore.”
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