Jan Purat is a Berkeley-based fiddler, composer, and arranger who has played in many popular Bay Area bands before rising to the top as fiddler in the hugely popular, national touring AJ Lee & Blue Summit. His marvelous tone and temperament are well suited to the band’s genre-busting mix of originals, roots, traditional bluegrass, etc.
Hey Jan, You’ve been on the road a lot with Blue Summit for the last couple of years. How are you holding up?
Hey Dave! Nice to be here. Yes, we’ve been touring a ton! It has been great times, love playing in this band with some of my favorite musicians. We’ve had a lot of great opportunities to share our music recently, including at some places like Telluride and France that have been pretty dreamy. Being on the road this much isn’t all rainbows and flowers, but certain aspects of it seem to get easier the more we do it. We’ve worked hard to get where we are.
I assume this is the most traveling you have done with a band before. What have you learned?
I have had the opportunity to do quite a bit of traveling over the decade with many different bands, but this has definitely been the most with a single project. Every group has its own unique vibe out on the road. Happy to be in a band where everyone is on a similar page and we all mesh well…more than that we all genuinely love each other and love spending time together. Would be hard or impossible for me to do this full-time if that wasn’t the case. Often after a long tour I’ll get home for a few days and start missing my bandmates.
What tunes have you noticed are the big crowd-pleasers?
One of the things I love about this band is the diversity of types of material. That reflects in the crowd response. Some fans gravitate towards certain tunes and it really seems to vary depending on the type of audience and the location. Recently we’ve been doing some fun medleys of AJ’s tunes like Something Special into Still Love You Still and then Scott Gates singing lead on Mountain Heartache, a great Alex Leach tune… people have been loving those. AJ’s version of Harvest Moon of course. Pirate Song and Rodney Dangerfield sometimes…But yeah it varies a lot and, of course, depends on the specific performance. Certain crowds want more upbeat grassy numbers but other ones are more interested in the more mellow pretty songs.
Jan and Blue Summit play his tune (Old) Rodney Dangerfield at Strawberry Music Festival in 2022.
I noticed on the Blue Summit website that you are the band booking contact for Australia and New Zealand. How did that come about?
Haha. We probably need to update that. I used to handle a decent amount of the managerial and booking work for the band…our last gig before the pandemic was at Kiwigrass, one of the band’s all-time favorite festivals (in beautiful New Zealand, of course). Shoutout to Nat, Jenine, and Barry Torkington for running a bluegrass festival down under. What a rad scene they have built…sweetest folks ever. We were talking with them in 2020 about planning another tour down there when I was starting to coordinate, but things kept falling through due to Covid restrictions. We hope to go back to Kiwigrass again if it happens in the future.
I seem to remember when you joined Blue Summit that you were immediately all-in. What about AJ and the band excited you?
I had been jamming with the band here and there for quite a while since maybe 2017, but they were down in Santa Cruz and mostly doing little local gigs at the time. I played on a tune on the first record, Like I Used to (Pirate Song), and I guess I officially joined in 2019 around the time that record came out. I was always inspired by everyone’s skills in the band, AJ’s amazing singing and songwriting, Jesse’s special musicality, and Sully’s incredible acoustic guitar playing – he is perhaps the best I’ve ever heard. So it was a natural opportunity for me to want to play with people I regard as the finest in the genre. But also chemistry and a good interpersonal hang is really important, and we definitely had that. I have known Scott Gates since the busking days when I was in college (at UC Santa Cruz), and my string band at the time used to play on Pacific Avenue there. I was excited he decided to join up about a year and a half ago.
Jan on the Pirate Song with AJ Lee & Blue Summit at Whale Rock Festival
Did I read where the band was in the studio?
We’re recording the next record in the studio this week! We are excited to be tracking in Oakland at Survivor Sound – working with producer Lech Wierzynski (California Honeydrops) and Jacob LaCally engineering. They both are really fantastic.
What other bands are you associated with? That King Wookiee show in San Francisco was wonderful.
Thank you – love that band… Yoseff Tucker, Zach Sharpe, and Scott Gates are some of my best friends. I love playing with them and spending time together, and I think it shows in the energy of the music. Would be fun to put out a record sometime guys…;)
I’ve had the honor to get to perform with so many incredible bands over the last decade. In the Bluegrass/Americana (whatever that means?)/Country/Folk genres. Caleb Klauder + Reeb Willms and Western Centuries have been real highlights.
Locally I have toured or played gigs with lots of great Bay Area bands… was a member of the Bow Ties and Steep Ravine, and also did some touring with Front Country, Hot Buttered Rum, Poor Man’s Whiskey, and many others. Jeff Scroggins and the Scroggdogs was a short-lived but very memorable project…just a tour of Ireland.
In the realm of other genres I have done a fair bit as well. Playing the Chapel with Andy Cabic from Vetiver was a special recent show for me. I love performing and jamming with my friend Lindsay (Salami Rose Joe Louis) and her whole crew of sweet friends and incredible musicians. Playing with Avery Hellman aka Ismay is a project I always really enjoy as well. To name a few…sure I’m forgetting some.
The Bow Ties won the 2018 Band Competition, that must have been fun.
Yes, that was amazing! We were competing against some other great bands. We wore custom USA-themed Sweatsedos for our Rockygrass win performance.
What do you enjoy doing if you find some spare time?
Spare time… spending time outdoors camping, backpacking, exploring the beautiful west, and traveling internationally whenever possible. I also love photography a lot, been getting more into film recently.
When did you first start playing violin/fiddle?
I started playing violin at age 7 with a fantastic teacher in Berkeley named Debbra Schwartz.
What other instruments do you play?
I tinkle around on mandolin and guitar, nothing too serious…working on it.
Were your parents musical? What were you exposed to in your youth? First tunes etc…
My mom was the one I really credit with giving me the opportunity to pursue music. She told me I could pick any instrument to play… I remember hearing a Jascha Heifetz CD my parents had laying around and being so impressed with how fast he could play, so I chose violin.
I played classical music – chamber music and orchestras until high school then started dabbling in folk and gypsy stuff. Did not hear bluegrass or get exposed to it until college in Santa Cruz when my next-door pot-growing-surfer neighbor heard me improvising on my violin and knocked on my front door. He immediately asked me if I wanted to join his string band North Pacific String Band (which was my first real acoustic band). There was a thriving bluegrass scene in the Bay when I was growing up there as a child, but I was not aware of it until later.
Who would you say are your major musical influences?
John Hartford and Vassar Clements/Old and In the Way were the ones I heard that first made me fall in love with bluegrass in the college years. I take inspiration from a ton of different fiddlers, hard to name just a couple.
Fell in love with James Price’s straight-a-head bluegrass fiddling over the pandemic…have always loved Randy Howard but don’t think I sound like either of them. Darol Anger is fantastic and inspiring and I’ve listened to him forever, definitely has been an influence. Stephane Grappelli when I was a teenager. Kenny (Baker) of course…too many amazing fiddlers out there to list here…
What is your approach to composition?
I usually riff on something, then record it and develop it over time. For composing parts for a band, or project involving a singer, I have fun building textures and layers that tell a story and grow a song as it develops.
Do you have a practice or warm-up approach when you need to get ready quickly?
Usually scales and related exercises. Violin is a challenging instrument that I like to say requires a lot of “maintenance” compared to other fretted or keyed instruments. Keeping that muscle memory fresh is important and necessary for good intonation. Warming up is always helpful in any capacity, though pure improvisation is a great tool…of course, playing tunes.
Do you do any private lessons?
I taught private lessons, mostly at Manning Music in Berkeley for a couple years. Not currently teaching…on the road too much!
What is something you see in students that is easy to fix?
Hmm.. each student is unique!
Do you have any specific goals?
Right now it’s basically play and write as much music as possible 🙂 Would be fun to put out a solo project at some point.
Have you read any interesting music-related or other books?
Novel-wise I recently read and really enjoyed Jitterbug Perfume, currently reading Ghenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World…highly recommend if you like history! Next on my list for music books is Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler, a book about Jimmy Martin by his partner Barbara, that I heard was great.
Thanks for your time Jan. Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thanks for having me, Dave! I’m about to make a listing…my beautiful Jonathan Cooper 5-string fiddle is looking for a new home. If anyone out there is in the market get in touch at email@example.com 🙂
Jan playing the Cooper on Lemons & Tangerines with AJ Lee at Pie Ranch outside Santa Cruz
Copy editing by Mary Ann Goldstein