Posts

Clinton Davis

The Center for World Music’s World Music in the Schools is delighted to profile teaching artist Dr. Clinton Davis, who is cultivating the next generation of audiences for traditional American music in San Diego.

Clinton Davis is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and educator. He was born and raised in Kentucky and now lives in San Diego, California. A fifth-generation Kentuckian, Davis grew up in Carroll County with faint residues of old-time music lingering in the air. With guitar, banjo, fiddle, harmonica, mandolin, and piano, Clinton sifts through America’s musical past. With the G Burns Jug Band, Davis arranges music of country, blues, and jazz greats from before World War II for a five-piece ensemble. Their second album received a San Diego Music Award.

G Burns Jug Band

 

Clinton is an enthusiastic scholar and singer of American shape-note music, traveling to every corner of the country to sing these unique tunes of a cappella harmony with others. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, he toured the Sand Mountain region of Alabama. There, he immersed himself in singing that has existed as an unbroken tradition for over 150 years.

 

In 2015, Clinton became an official Deering Artist, partnering with the Deering Banjo Company and appearing in their catalog to showcase their Goodtime Americana line of banjos.

In 2016, Clinton earned his doctorate in music at the University of California, San Diego. He served as an associate instructor at UCSD, leading a survey course in American roots music.

Beginning in 2017, Clinton has presented a series of concerts called the Southern Pacific Sessions, featuring a variety of musicians performing traditional American music at Kalabash Music & Arts in the Bird Rock neighborhood of San Diego.

Clinton teaches private music lessons and leads middle school clawhammer-style banjo classes as a teaching artist for the CWM’s World Music in the Schools program.

If you want to catch Clinton performing, check out his upcoming gigs, along with a plethora of other gems on his website, www.clintonrossdavis.com.

Enjoy this YouTube video of Clinton performing Kenesaw Mountain Rag with G Burns Jug Band.

Access for Seniors program with Sole e Mar, Lions Community Manor

Access to the Arts for Seniors is a new Center for World Music program presenting the world’s music dance, and related arts in affordable housing facilities for seniors with limited access to cultural enrichment. During Spring 2018, our Access to the Arts Coordinator, Stacey Barnett, organized five special programs in residential communities around the San Diego area.

Pictured above is our first event, a Mother’s Day celebration, May 9 at the Lion’s Community Manor, Market Street, San Diego, featuring Sol e Mar musicians David Shyde and Brian Pierini.

The series continued with a Memorial Day program, May 25, at the Escondido Garden Apartments, North Midway Drive, Escondido, with American roots and country music by Gemini Junction.

Access for Seniors program with Gemini Junction, Escondido Garden Apartments

Then a coffee hour on June 4 at Sorrento Tower Apartments, Cowley Way, San Diego, with Will Marsh performing “Lutes of the World” on guitar, Indian sitar, and Persian setar.

Access for Seniors program with Will Marsh, Sorrento Tower

Residents of St. John’s Plaza Apartments, Lemon Grove, enjoyed another coffee hour on June 13. This event featured Latin/Cuban music with drummer and CWM teaching artist Mark Lamson and guitarist Israel Maldonado.

Access for Senior program with Mark Lamson, St. John's Plaza

Finally, the season ended with a social at Guadalupe Plaza, San Diego, on July 2, featuring African American spirituals by Delores Fisher, member of the CWM’s Artistic Board.

Access for Seniors program with Delores Fisher, Guadalupe Plaza

The first in a planned series of reports on the fascinating variety of traditional music that can be found around the world. We start the series in the United States with an article about jug band music and the human capacity to make music from an object one might find mundane. 

As the leader of San Diego’s G Burns Jug Band, two questions follow me around every show we play: “Who is G Burns?” and “What is a jug band?” I’m saving the answer to the first question for another time, but let’s talk about what a jug band is. Style aside, jug bands are defined by their use of a ceramic jug as a bass instrument. Technically, the jug is a wind instrument because the players buzz their lips and blow into the jug, using it as a resonator. By adjusting their embouchure, or the tenseness of their lips, the players create a musical tone resembling an upright bass being bowed with a weedwacker.

Some of the earliest accounts we have of jug blowing in America trace to the turn of the 20th century around Louisville, Kentucky. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; Kentucky, after all, is the storied land of bourbon and moonshine. It was inevitable that someone would come up with something funny to do with all of the byproducts once emptied. The instrument was most popular in African American string bands, where it was combined with guitars, mandolins, banjos, and fiddles, and even clarinets, saxophones, cornets, and tubas.

The first bands to record jug blowing in the mid 1920s were also rooted in Louisville. Bandleaders Earl McDonald and Clifford Hayes formed numerous bands which included the jug, and sought to emulate the hot jazz coming out of New Orleans and Chicago. Though their names are not well remembered now, they worked with legends like Johnny Dodds, the New Orleans clarinettist who also worked with a young Louis Armstrong. Listen to Earl McDonald’s composition “Banjoreno,” performed by his Dixieland Jug Blowers, for a beloved example of this exuberant, wonderfully strange music.

The Dixieland Jug Blowers. Earl McDonald poses with jug in center.

The Dixieland Jug Blowers. Earl McDonald poses with jug in center.

Recordings of the Louisville bands caught on among black musicians across the South, who applied jug playing to other styles of music. The bands of Memphis and Birmingham, for example, drew on the rowdier sounds and instrumentation of country blues, itinerant songsters, and minstrel shows rather than more modern and urban jazz sounds of Louisville and New Orleans. The sound could be jubilant, like The Memphis Jug Band’s “Memphis Shakedown,” but it could also be tender and moving, like the remarkable “Cold Iron Bed” by Jack Kelley and his South Memphis Jug Band. The jug even found its way into church, with “sanctified jug bands” cutting records like “Thou Carest Lord” sung by the Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers.

Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers from Memphis

Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers from Memphis

When you collect all of these examples, the idea of a “jug band” or “jug band music” becomes hard to define stylistically. They just don’t fall easily into the categories of American roots music we’re most familiar with. Their music spans nearly the entire gamut of black music-making in the early 20th century, and yet their place in American music history often seems marginal. In the grand narrative of jazz, Louisville jug bands seem like a strange cul-de-sac on the roads connecting New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. Meanwhile, the grand narratives of blues music have valorized rural soloists of the acoustic age like Robert Johnson, and electrified urban bandleaders like Muddy Waters. In between them, the acoustic urban jug bands, with their bluesy fiddle or bluesy mandolin just don’t seem to fit.

So, to return to that original question: what is a jug band? Trying to define it in terms of musical style might be futile. My favorite answer (though maybe not always the best answer) comes from the last of the black jug band musicians of Louisville, Henry Miles, who said, “You can have a symphony orchestra. If you got a jug player in that band, that’s a jug band.”*

*Jones, Michael L., Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2014), 98.

Clinton Davis, Ph.D. is a freelance musician and educator born and raised in Kentucky and currently based in San Diego. He performs music from a variety of American traditions on guitar, banjo, piano, and mandolin, most visibly for the award-winning G Burns Jug Band. For more information, visit his website at http://clintonrossdavis.com

PBS's State of Music

A new PBS documentary, narrated by Appalachian musician David Holt, introduces a rich history of music and musicians, extending into the present:

Grammy Award-winning performer David Holt introduces viewers to modern masters of traditional music in the Southern mountains and remembers the greats who taught him. Featured artists are Bryan Sutton, Josh Goforth, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bruce Molsky, the Branchettes and Balsam Range . . .

Details available on PBS.org.  Meet the artists here.

Events

Nothing Found

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria