Bill Evans and the History of the Banjo

West coast banjoist extraordinaire Bill Evans shared this video he shot for the folks at The Fretboard Journal back in January of this year, which is only just now available online.

In it, Bill offers a short history of our beloved five string banjo, presenting and demonstrating the evolution of the instrument and its playing styles. He goes from a distant cousin, the Gambian Akonting, up through one of today’s modern electric banjos, hitting several other stops in between.

The 15 minute video is a condensed version of Bill’s much longer The Banjo In America presentation. If you play the banjo, or enjoy its distinctive sound, this one is for you.


Bill tells us he is in the thick of preparations these days for his banjo mini-camp, on November 17 with Alan Munde and Bill Keith. It will be hosted at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, CA from 1:00-5:00 p.m. A concert, billed as The California Banjo Extravaganza, featuring all three five-string masters will be held that evening.

Despite Keith’s recent surgery on his left hand to correct a problem where his pinky finger was permanently withdrawn inward towards his palm, Evans reports that he is in fine picking form.

“His surgery was successful and his recovery was quick. I taught with Bill at the American Banjo Camp in Washington state early in September, and he is sounding as good as I’ve ever heard him.”

Munde is just a year out from bypass surgery himself, which Evans says has given Alan a new lease on life.

“I’ve taught with him at several workshops since his surgery, and the really great news is that he seems newly energized and he’s playing better than ever.”

The California Banjo Extravaganza will also perform November 16 at the Palms Playhouse in Winters, Ca, and again on the 18th at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall in Felton.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.