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A banjo-centric conversation with Hal Smith and John Gill

Johnny St. Cyr
Johnny St. Cyr (Photo by John Kuhlman)

Multi-instrumentalist and bandleader John Gill (“Traditional Jazz’s Stomper-in-Chief,” TST, April 2020) has an encyclopedic knowledge of, and appreciation for, a wide variety of banjoists in many different musical styles. Recently we discussed some of our favorite banjoists. Hopefully, TST readers will take the time to seek out their records.

Hal Smith: John, thanks for your willingness to join me in this discussion. Since you actually play the instrument, I am really looking forward to hearing what you have to say about the musicians we are going to talk about. To start off, I would like to discuss one of my jazz heroes: Johnny St. Cyr. Whether he was playing four or six-string banjo, he had a great beat, played very inventive solos that mixed single-string lines with full chords (like “Flat Foot,” with the New Orleans Bootblacks) and could play that old school New Orleans style with a bass note, a chord and arpeggios. And he was consistent throughout his career! When I heard him in the 1960s, he was playing the same way he did with the Red Hot Peppers and the Hot Five in the 1920s. What are your