Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Tag: banjo


Remembering Earl Scruggs

The following post is from Ensemble Department professor David Hollender.

I was at Berklee at about 8:00 last night with banjo phenom Noam Pikelny and some students. Noam had finished two days of teaching just minutes before and everyone was upbeat when the phone rang. It was Matt Glaser calling to ask if I had heard the news that Earl Scruggs had died. The room got silent and Noam plopped down into a chair and put his head in his hands. When he looked up he said, “The world became a different place today.”

To this day Earl Scruggs’ playing remains the gold standard. His tone, touch, and timing were impeccable. His playing defined playing with drive and he breathed fire into the instrument. At times he played with a wildness that has never been outdone. (Listen to his last solo on “Farewell Blues”!) If young or casual listeners today hear him and think to themselves that what they are hearing is just typical sounding banjo they are failing to realize that Earl Scruggs pretty much singlehandedly created the vernacular of what we now recognize as bluegrass banjo. If something sounds typical is because everyone has been so heavily influenced by him. It simply did not exist before he played it! And every innovation in banjo playing for the past 65 years, including each and every one of the most contemporary players, rests squarely on the foundation of techniques and concepts that Earl perfected.


Berklee President Roger H. Brown and Earl Scruggs in Nashville

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Berklee kicked butt at the Lowell Banjo and Fiddle Contests

John Mailander and Kyle Tuttle play for gold at the 2010 Lowell Banjo and Fiddle Contests

John Mailander and Kyle Tuttle play for gold at the 2010 Lowell Banjo and Fiddle Contests. All photos by Sam Stambler.

Think music-college students can’t play bluegrass? The Berklee crew seriously showed off its chops at the 31st annual Lowell Banjo and Fiddle Contests on Sept. 11 at the Lowell National Historic Park. Students took first place in six of the eight categories. Said top alt-styles fiddler Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, “It was a pretty good day!”

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