If it has strings and makes music, Garland’s Gerald Jones can play it. A mainstay of the Texas music scene for almost four decades, Gerald teaches, too – Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks was once a student. Though the banjo is his main squeeze, Gerald will be a big player at this weekend’s Lone Star Uke Fest, a celebration of acoustic music in general and the ukulele in particular. He talks about this weekend’s big event as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: What is a banjo player doing at the Lone Star Uke Fest?
Gerald Jones: Actually, I’ll be teaching mandolin, swing guitar and a general workshop on Jam Session Survival Skills. I know one of the organizers, Noel Tardy. She came to my Acoustic Music Camp in Arlington. When she decided to put on Uke Fest, she thought I’d be a good addition for some odd reason.
A&S: How did you approach finding opportunities to play when you were starting out, and how has that changed today?
G.J.: When I first started I went to every jam that I could find. I met people, made friends and generally networked. You have to make your own opportunities. I picked with as many folks as I could. Not only do you get experience, you are in effect advertising that you can play. Don’t hide you stuff under a bushel basket … Today it’s easier to connect with people because of the Internet. Folks can see and hear you without being in the same room or even the same state. Otherwise it’s pretty much the same.
A&S: What has kept other stringed instruments from reaching equal popularity with the guitar?
G.J.: Guitar has only been more popular now and for the last 60 or 70 years. What’s popular keeps changing. In the late 1800s to about 1930, banjo was more popular than guitar. There were many mandolin and banjo orchestras around the tun of last century too. Big bands were popular once, but how many famous clarinetists or trombone players can you think of right off hand? Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey don’t count, because they are dead.
Someone will have a hit or make a movie featuring another instrument besides the guitar, and that will boost its popularity. Guitars do have the advantage – you can sing and play at the same time, they accompany vocals and other instruments well, are easy to carry and can be fairly inexpensive.
A&S: When you listen to music, what medium do you use?
G.J.: iPhone and computer mainly. I have a garage full of vinyl I never use along with cassettes. CDs are sort of old school now.
G.J.: Not many. Most want to be good without having to work too hard for it. Like the old joke about the guy in New York who asked a cop “how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer is “practice, practice, practice!” I heard that someone told Jascha Heifetz, “I’d give my life to play like you do,” to which he responded, “I did!”
A&S: Why is Texas a good place for a ukulele?
G.J.: Is it???? At least you won’t have much competition. … It will fit in your saddlebag. Or under the seat in front of you so you don’t incur a baggage fee. … To get girls?
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.