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Mel Bay Ragtime , Blues & Jazz for Banjo Paperback – May 15, 2015
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Oh sure. Occasional forays have been mounted into other areas such as jazz and classical, but few people in contemporary American society recognize the versatility of the instrument and instead give credit to the performer more than to the instrument.
A way to combat this? More banjo players could learn to play a wider range of musical styles.
And that is where this book comes in.
Fred Sokolow gives the reader a variety of early jazz, blues, and ragtime songs for the intermediate player with a smattering of history thrown in to remind them that the banjo has explored such styles in the past. Furthermore, these styles informed and influenced the original creators of bluegrass, so by learning them a performer who wishes to focus on bluegrass may bring new legs to old licks.
I have only had this book for a few weeks and have mainly been focusing on the ragtime tunes of Scott Joplin. I have always thought that they would sound good on the banjo and was pleased to see that the arrangement of "The Entertainer" does the song justice. My only caveat is that I think that in at least one place the arrangement needlessly jumps over the fretboard.
All in all though, a very good variety with interesting arrangements. While I would not necessarily give this to a person who has never played banjo before, someone who has a basic familiarity with the instrument and how to fingerpick might enjoy this book.
(Edit - 19 Sept, 2013) Since I wrote this review, I have explored even more of this book and found it immeasurably useful. I do wish that a CD were included, but the songs themselves are wonderful and educational. Also, I have gotten used to Sokolow's exploration of the fingerboard.
I have been delving into the blues in particular. The explanation of shuffle beat, the transcriptions of classics such as Abilene and House of the Rising Sun, and the licks in Down and Out Blues and other songs have whetted my appetite. I want more! My father, a former skeptic on the banjo's versatility and die-hard guitarist, was impressed as I played songs from the blues section and commented that the banjo sounded fantastic in that style!
Please, Mr. Sokolow. Write another, focusing more on the blues!
In addition, it is just poorly transcribed. Very shoddy work. For example, in "The Entertainer,'' many of the quarter notes are written as triplets--presumably in order to avoid marking tied notes or include rests--but there are no triplets in ''The Entertainer.'' Even someone familiar with the piece will have a hard time playing accurately with ambiguous tablature. It is simply lazy, inaccurate writing. Fred Sokolow has totally dropped the ball and produced an unprofessional piece of unedited desk-top publishing that does not meet the standards of any legitimate music publisher. This reflects very poorly on Mel Bay Publications.