Banjo Legends Pt 2: An Interview With Adam Hurt

Photo by Martin Tucker, used by kind permission of Adam Hurt.

Photo by Martin Tucker, used with kind permission of Adam Hurt.

I’m pleased to present part 2 of an interview series with banjo players who are respected and renowned around the world.

This time, I’m very pleased to introduce claw hammer talent, Adam Hurt.

The Washington Post regarded Adam as a “banjo virtuoso” and he is known for his innovative claw hammer banjo style, based on traditional old-time idioms. He was introduced to the banjo at just 11 in his hometown, within the state of Minnesota.

Adam was kind enough to provide me with answers to my questions which you can read below:

The interview

1 / . Can you remember if there was a particular tune or song , that made you stop and think ‘I need to learn to do that ‘ and made you pick up the banjo ?

I was already learning to play the mandolin, and had been doing so for roughly a year, when I first encountered the clawhammer banjo. I had been exposed to bluegrass banjo by this time, 1995, but it never did much for me; its music did not make sense to me, and it somehow sounded incomplete to me unless it was buried in the musical context of a bluegrass band. My mandolin instructor happened to be learning to play claw hammer banjo himself, and while we were practice-jamming on a few tunes that I had been working out, he happened to pick up his very different-looking (i.e. open-back!) banjo to support me in this style on something common: I believe that it was Soldier’s Joy. The moment I heard that sound, those rhythms, that complete musical picture on this familiar tune, I was totally hooked and HAD to find out more!

2 / . Do you have any pre show rituals to help you relax on stage ?

I do not go through any rituals per se, but I never like to take the stage “cold.” While I will have done plenty of rehearsing in the days and weeks ahead of a performance, I make sure to leave time–an hour or so at minimum–to relax with my instrument at the venue and get acclimated. I may or may not play through my material-to-perform, instead focusing on simply getting my fingers moving and my head clear.

3 / . Early on in your playing, where there any techniques or ideas..that you may have had to work especially hard to get , ..but once you got them , really moved your playing along ?

When I was first exposed to the Round Peak clawhammer banjo vernacular, as presented to me in an 1997 weekend-long banjo workshop taught by Rafe Stefanini, I was absolutely mystified; I had up until that point been playing the banjo in a rather generic clawhammer style, and I had never heard or seen it played in the manner of Kyle Creed, Tommy Jarrell, and Fred Cockerham, whose aesthetics Rafe’s playing captured quite well at that time. So many of the maneuvers in both hands were so counterintuitive for me, but I found their sounds and capabilities inspiring enough to keep working until I was able to reproduce them. Although I do not consider myself a Round Peak banjo player per se, my style is very informed by that idiom, and I can attribute this influence to Rafe, and to my persevering to get his workshop tunes techniques under my fingers, in the first place. I have since been very inspired by the recordings of those self same players who inspired Rafe, and am so thankful to have been led to that special music and that sometimes-unlikely way of playing the instrument.

4 / . What projects are you working on at the moment ?

I am excited to begin recording a new album this winter. It will be banjo-centric as usual for me, but it will also feature more larger-ensemble configurations accompanying the banjo rather than my usual duets and the like. I also intend to put more thought into my arrangements than I have done in the past, and I will likewise do my best to map out what the ensembles will be playing in a more choreographed way than I believe is typical of old-time musicians and their recordings. Outside of the studio, I continue to teach privately at home and via Skype, and I still travel domestically and abroad to conduct workshops and perform, frequently as a duet with fingerstyle guitarist and singer Beth Williams Hartness.

5 / . Where is the best place for people to go , to find out more about you ?

I maintain a website at www.adamhurt.com; the site itself will be rejigged sometime early in 2014, but it is at least functional at the moment, if not a bit clunky. My recordings are best found at www.cdbaby.com/artist/adamhurt

Thank you very much for taking the time to share that with us Adam. I know that readers will find that interesting and useful.  I wish you the very best of luck in your future endeavours. 🙂 

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this Malc. Adam is a new one for me and I have listened to some of his utube stuff – I particularly like his gourd banjo playing.

    • Hi Graham,
      Your welcome mate . He’s definitely worth a listen . He pulls a great big tone out of that gourd and always sound fluid and relaxed. There’s a lesson right there for many of us ( myself included ) 🙂 . Thanks for commenting , Malc

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