Ken Perlman’s Home Page
Superb instrumentalist, acclaimed teacher of instrumental skills, gifted performer, award-winning folklorist, Ken Perlman is surely a welcome addition to any festival or concert-series lineup. Ken is both a pioneer of the 5-string banjo style known as “melodic clawhammer” and a master of fingerstyle guitar. He is considered one of the top clawhammer players in the world, known in particular for his skillful adaptations of Celtic tunes to the style. On guitar, Ken’s sparkling finger-picked renditions of traditional Celtic and Southern fiddle tunes are simply not to be missed. Click for more about Ken.
Current Events & Announcements
Just Out!! Ken’s New Book on Prince Edward Island Fiddling
Couldn’t Have a Wedding Without the Fiddler: The Story of Traditional Fiddling on Prince Edward Island was just published by University of Tennessee Press, and copies are now available through this site and elsewhere. It’s the inaugural volume of the Charles Wolfe Series (Wolfe was a noted and much beloved folklorist who wrote about fiddling in the mid- and upper-South). Through narrative and the fiddlers’ own words, the book brings the world of traditional fiddling on P.E.I. to life, covering such areas as dance parties and celebrations, attitudes and stereotypes about fidding, traditional music and community life, methods of learning, playing styles and repertoire, effects of contests and media, the decline of fiddling in the decades following World War II and the subsequent fiddling-revival movement. 462pp. According to one pre-publication reviewer:
The book is the most thorough and comprehensive exploration of any fiddling tradition anywhere. Every aspect of the art of fiddling in PEI is considered – its history, the technical aspects of the art, the ethnic and geographic distribution of fiddling on the island, its social and cultural functions past and present, the changing gender profile for fiddling, how one learns to play the instrument and the style, and the relationship of the style and repertory to other Old World and Canadian fiddling traditions.
PEI Fiddling Website, Bowing Down Home Has Just Gone Online!!
The PEI Traditional Fiddling Website (known as “Bowing Down Home”), based on the field recordings Ken collected in 1991-92 and 2006 has just gone up on line. There are well over 1500 musical selections and 400 oral history selections available on the site, hundreds of photographs and video clips, and a host of expository materials. Bowing Down Home is hosted by the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown and was constructed by a team at Robertson under the leadership of Mark Leggott using a state of the art program called Islandora, which was pioneeered at UPEI under Mark’s direction.
New Perlman-Jabbour CD
Ken and Fiddler Alan Jabbour have just released a new joint CD called You Can’t Beat the Classics. We are joined on this project by Alan’s old friend, guitarist Jim Watson, who was a founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers and currently plays bass with Robin & Linda Williams. The CD focuses on tunes that Alan collected way back and has played for years, but has never had a chance to record. Copies are now available through this site (or from Alan or Jim).
If you loved Southern Summits you’ll love this too!!
Concerto for Banjo and Orchestra
Several years ago, noted contemporary composer Harold Schiffman wrote a concerto in three movements for clawhammer banjo and orchestra. Mr. Schiffman wrote the piece with Ken in mind to play it, and Ken debuted the work in New York City this past February with an ensemble known as the North/South Consonance under conductor Max Lifschitz. The location was Christ & St. Stephen’s Church on West 69th Street between Broadway and Columbus. According to the composer, “the three-movement Banjo Concerto is cast in a traditional fast-slow-fast pattern. Inspired by Appalachian’s melodies, the work’s musical language recalls Baroque-era lute music while offering the soloist ample opportunity for technical display.” Attending rehearsals for the event proved to be quite an adventure for Ken, coinciding with a major snow storm that hit the region (the one where the new mayor elected NOT to let the kids stay home from school). Despite those various other weather related challenges, the concert itself was well attended and warmly received. The open-back banjo held its own as a non-amplified solo instrument in a classical ensemble, without doubt! A lot of people happily described the piece as “charming,” which it was!!
Tribute to Pete Seeger
The acoustic music world lost a giant last year with the passing of Pete Seeger. Read Ken’s recent eulogy and his two-part interview of Pete from September and October 2000 on the Banjo Newsletter website:
Ken taught clawhammer again this year Feb. 18-22 at the Winter Music Camp in Kansas City
The Folk Alliance inaugurated the Winter Music Camp in February 2014 at its new home in Kansas City. Both Ken and fiddler Alan Jabbour were scheduled instructors. This year’s event was embedded within a community outreach project called the Music Fair. Both camp and parent event were great successes.
Some new honors
- Ken has a selection featured on a new anthology called Classic Banjo from Smithsonian Folkways. Since the CD also features the likes of Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Dock Boggs, Rufus Crisp, and Roscoe Holcomb (not to mention such contemporary bluegrass wizards as Bill Keith and Tony Trischka) this is quite an honor.
- Ken’s book, Advanced Fingerstyle Guitar, was included recently in a book by Shawn Persinger called The 50 Greatest Guitar Books (Quixotic Music Co.).
Southern Summits still enchants listeners
Southern Summits: 21 Duets for Fiddle & Banjo is a joint project with fiddler Alan Jabbour. Alan and I started playing together in Y2K while both were on staff at the Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp in Colorado, and that eventually led to a quite a number of joint concerts, tours and this recording project. This CD accentuates the lyrical and whimsical nature of Southern fiddle tunes through the elaboration of the fiddle-banjo duet. The repertoire is drawn primarily from Alan’s collecting work with West Virginia fiddler Henry Reed and Reed’s contemporaries. Along with the usual complement of hoedowns and fiddle-rags, it also includes waltzes, marches, schottisches and quicksteps. I see my own role in the recording as the culmination of a lifetime of playing with fiddlers from a variety of traditions. Sometimes the banjo plays “traditional” back-up, sometimes full or partial melody, sometimes close harmony, sometimes counter melody, sometimes piano-style bass lines, and on and on. We hope you enjoy listening to these arrangements as much as we enjoyed putting them together. To order, visit our CDs page.
Ken’s latest solo CD is Northern Banjo
Ken’s crystal clear clawhammer ably supported by some great “north country” musicians on guitar, bass, fiddle, viola, mandolin, uilleann pipes, flute, whistle, bouzouki and percussion, PLUS three of Ken’s patented fingerstyle guitar solos. For description, contents and to hear some sample excerpts click the CD cover or title above. The project includes an eight page annotated booklet with notes on all the tunes, banjo and fiddle tunings, and more.
To order, visit our CDs page.
Ken’s latest banjo instruction book
Ken’s newest book is entitled Everything You Wanted to Know About Clawhammer Banjo. “Everything You Wanted to Know” is based on over twenty years of his columns in Banjo Newsletter and includes – along with a considerable amount of instruction and observations about the style – about 120 tunes, along with numerous exercises and musical examples. The chapters are organized as follows: basic techniques; advanced and experimental techniques; how to approach various kinds of fiddle tunes; how to approach various other musical genres; how to deal with accompaniment and backup; tunings; setup; banjo and old time music history, etc. All tunes are illustrated on two companion CDs. The price is $29.95, plus shipping. To order, visit our Banjo Instruction page.
Celtic & New England Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo is the new name for one of Ken’s early instruction books
This book of 30+ tunes was first published in 1979 under the title “New England & Irish Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo.” It was distributed by Mel Bay for many years as “Basic Clawhammer Banjo.” It includes a CD that illustrates all the tunes. To order, visit our Banjo Instruction page
Back in Print: Ken’s classic Melodic Clawhammer Banjo
This inspirational, highly influential book features about 55 tunes in clear tablature, all illustrated on its new companion CD. Also includes instruction, exercises, musical examples, historical notes, technical illustrations and period photos. Price: $19.95 To order, visit our Banjo Instruction page.
Ken is now available for lessons and workshops via the Internet/Skype
Contact him via phone or his normal email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
High praises for Ken’s solo CD, Northern Banjo
Ken’s playing is without peer. The smoothness and clarity of attack with which he presents these highly complex and ornamented tunes is simply magnificent. The arrangements, featuring expert backing while always placing the banjo out front, are wonderful.
On first listening to Ken Perlman’s exquisite new recording, Northern Banjo, I was struck by the fact that no one on the earth could have created this recording except him. It is a tour de force bringing together Ken’s exquisite melodic technique on the banjo, along with his tireless decade-long research into the music of Prince Edward Island.
Old Time Herald
Northern Banjo is a richly woven tapestry… Perlman showers the tunes with notes that are thrown off his banjo as brilliantly as sparks from a fire-works sparkler. Northern Banjo is an album that anyone who loves old fiddle tunes, fine banjo playing, or just good music should thoroughly enjoy.
Impeccable clarity. Every note is brilliant… these tunes, executed in meticulous manner, will captivate and demand your utmost respect for the skill level required. Most Excellent. Bluegrass Unlimited Mr. Perlman has done an exquisite job of taking the banjo where no one has gone before.
Canadian Folk Music Bulletin
Here is a recording that has full marks for presentation of instrumental ensemble music. .. this 53- minute CD is a masterpiece… Perlman’s respect for the fiddle traditions of Atlantic Canada should not go unnoticed, nor should his particular field work in PEI. All of this shines through on the recording… this work has delightful power!
Ken’s individual, powerful and greatly musical playing is distinguished by gently crafted, expertly moulded and naturally flowing melodic lines rather than being a mere showcase for breakneck showy picking. Every track’s a delight… it all adds up to a joyous and refreshingly different instrumental release that’s highly recommendable
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