Jayme Stone’s Folklife: “Perennials for the People”

Jayme Stone, banjo, voice
Moira Smiley, voice, accordion
Sumaia Jackson, fiddle, voice
Joe Phillips, bass, voice

Sunday, April 7, 2019, 7 p.m.
Drinkward Recital Hall

A black and white group shot of, from left to right, Sumaia Jackson, Moira Smiley, Jayme Stone, and Joe Phillips with plants and succulents on the back. Jayme Stone holds a banjo.
From left to right, Sumaia Jackson, Moira Smiley, Jayme Stone, and Joe Phillips. Photo courtesy of the artists.


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For Jayme Stone’s Folklife, the versatile gathering of musicians has cultivated vibrant Sea Island spirituals, Creole calypsos, and stomp-down Appalachian dance tunes for contemporary listeners. Their concerts and educational programs are moving, inventive, and participatory experiences that prove folk songs are indeed perennials for the people.

Jayme Stone is a composer, banjoist, instigator, producer, and educator. On any given day, you might find him in his studio reworking a little-known hymn learned from a field recording, producing a session with musicians from Bamako or New York, creating experimental soundscapes with electric banjo and pedals, or tucking his kids in on time so he can get back to writing the next verse of a new song.

As a young banjoist, Stone was obsessed with learning from both traditional players and modern masters. He quickly assimilated his endless fascinations—from learning an Ali Farka Touré song to playing free-improvised music. In his late teens, Stone spent hours at the headphone station of his local record shop listening deeply to different kinds of music. He was interested in the “heart and guts” of what he heard—the warmth and grit of folk songs, the camaraderie and risk in jazz, the dynamics of chamber music, the cyclical rhythms of West Africa—but no one genre felt quite like his own. He might’ve forever remained a listener were he not compelled to make the music he heard in his head.

Stone, a “consummate team player” (Downbeat), has developed a process of trawling for understudied sounds in the more arcane corners of the world to see how they’ll land in his musical universe. His many collaborators have included Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Julian Lage, Dom Flemons, Bassekou Kouyate, and more. Guided by his own aesthetic compass and a desire to let his collaborators “make the sounds that only they know how to make”, he has made a surprise album every two or three years—seven total. Albums like Africa to Appalachia, a polyrhythmic tale of two continents; the Lomax Project, which re-imagines songs collected by American folklorist Alan Lomax; and most recently, Folklife, a companion album to the latter that treats old field recordings not as time capsules, but as heirloom seeds planted in modern soil. It’s for this reason that Stone has also been called “a musical evangelist” who “loves using fresh approaches that get people hooked on wider musical traditions” (Edmonton Journal).

Stone has always drawn on tradition for his own revisionings, but over the past year, he’s been drawing from a more personal well. In July 2017, his brother—Michael Stone, a well-known teacher of yoga and Buddhism—died suddenly and tragically. Grieving and grappling with Michael’s death led Stone to begin writing lyrics for songs unlike any of his previous compositions. Words have become windows through which Stone looks at memory, loss, and paradox. These words have also given Stone a reason to sing, along with playing electric banjo, tenor guitar, and OP-1 (a synthesizer/sampler/drum machine).

The new songs will be part of an ambitious, experimental art-pop album, inspired by the two records that Stone calls his “twin stars”—22, A Million by Bon Iver and Blonde by Frank Ocean. The album envisions songs that blend into one another like a mix tape where high and lo-fi sounds entwine, along with poetic lyrics, and wildly experimental uses of technology and studio production. Stone’s trusty collaborators for this new album are all well-known for their cross-genre work: Alec Spiegelman (Cuddle Magic), Jason Burger (Big Thief), Felicity Williams (Bahamas), Andrew Ryan (Kaïa Kater), and Moira Smiley (tUnEyArDs). The album will likely be released in early 2020.

Other career highlights for Stone include winning two Juno Awards, three Canadian Folk Music Awards; being featured on NPR, BBC, and the CBC; and performing thousands of concerts at places like the Lincoln and Kennedy Centers, Library of Congress, Bumbershoot, Rockygrass, Celtic Connections, Vancouver Folk Festival, Lotus Festival, Chicago World Music Festival, Montréal Jazz Festival, and more.

Stone is a sought-after producer who can carefully craft the cast, atmosphere, and ethos needed to make captivating records. He’s now producing, composing, and arranging music for a new sound collection at Facebook that has given him a chance to exercise his thirsty ears and imagination. For that project he’s worked with such varied artists as Trio Da Kali, Manik Khan, Ranky Tanky, Trio Brasiliero, Jo Lawry, Ben Sollee, and many others.

As an educator, Stone has taught workshops and masterclasses at universities and music camps and has been on faculty at the Silk Road Global Musician Workshop. Fellow musicians frequently seek Stone’s advice, keen to discover how he’s managed to craft a career that both hews closely to his creative vision and finds success in the world. This has resulted in the creation of two offerings: the popular workshop How to Book Yourself without an Agent and a yet-to-be-launched online course that teaches “businesscraft for musicmakers” called Compose Your Career.

HMC is deeply grateful for the generous support that created The Ken Stevens ’61 Founding Class Concert Series.

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