Cynthia Sayer works to connect 4 and 5 string banjo

What do you know about banjoist Cynthia Sayer? Bluegrass lovers could easily have missed her sterling career, one that has led many to describe her as the top four string banjo player on the scene today.

We have mentioned her name a number of times of late, with Cynthia being named a winner of the 2023 Steve Martin Banjo Prize, and a recent inductee into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame. She performs both solo and with combos and orchestras; her rise to prominence coincided with her time as a founding members of Woody Allen’s New Orleans Jazz Band. She has also worked with such noted artists as Bucky Pizzarelli, Dick Hyman, Andy Statman, Les Paul, Marvin Hamlisch, Wynton Marsalis, Vince Giordano, Scott Robinson, and many others.

When we spoke last week, Sayer was primarily interested in discussing her upcoming Lincoln Center show, billed as Cynthia Sayer & The Banjo Experience, part of her ongoing effort to introduce fans of four string banjo to five string players, and vice versa.

She talked jokingly about the big difference in today’s music market, where the five string is far more common and familiar, and the situation 80-100 years ago, when bluegrass was being born, and the five was treated as a red headed stepchild to the four.

Her Banjo Experience program not only pairs Cynthia’s powerful jazz banjo music with the old time sounds of Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, she adds a modern day look at the older banjo orchestras with help from Arnt Arntzen, Josh Dunn, Jared Engel, Hilary Hawke, Dennis Lichtman, Nick Russo, and Jim Whitney.

Sayer says that she is hoping to see even more interaction between the four and five string players, and the bluegrass, old time, and jazz banjo communities.

“One of the things I’m trying to do is get the often-overlooked four-string banjo more public exposure, and also lessen the gap between our different banjo worlds!”

This free banjo concert is scheduled at the Lincoln Center in New York on March 29 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is by first come, first served, so be sure to arrive a bit early. Many Lincoln Center shows are also streamed live online, but this one doesn’t seem to be on the list.

Cynthia also offers a lecture/performance combo program called The Unexpected Journey of Jazz Banjo, which tells of the hey day for four string banjo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can see video excerpts of these presentations, which combine photos, video, speech, and live music here.

Learn more about Cynthia Sayer and her banjo playing by visiting her online.

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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.