Fred Geiger, noted banjo player and instructor in Maryland, died in the early morning of January 12 when his house was engulfed by fire, with him in it. He was 82 years of age.
His was a familiar name to two generations of banjo players through his columns in Banjo NewsLetter. Geiger’s contributions began shortly after the magazine was launched, starting in the early 1980s, running all the way into 2017.
Born in Philadelphia, Fred studied at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and at the Syracuse School of Journalism. After college, he moved to the capitol area, where he wrote for a number of publications, including The Washington Star and Stars and Stripes, as well as an Annapolis, MD paper.
After living in Annapolis, Fred stayed in the DC suburbs for many years before settling finally in Wolfsville, near Fredrick, MD. He had been recovering from recent back surgery at home when the fire occurred.
In Banjo NewsLetter, Geiger had a regular column called Chorducopia, in which he encouraged Scruggs-style banjo players to expand their knowledge of chord theory, with examples presented both of jazz standards in three finger style, and examples of how jazzy phrases could be inserted into bluegrass playing. Many of these columns, and songs or tunes transcribed by Fred, can still be found by searching the BNL web site, even though the magazine is not currently publishing new content.
His musical interests were quite broad, encompassing popular American music of every kind. In the video below, we see Fred playing his arrangement of Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic, The Entertainer.
And here he plays a chord melody arrangement of the jazz standard, Autumn Leaves.
The only recording under his name was a 1978 self-titled album released by Ridge Runner Records. It included 11 pop and jazz standards, along with two Geiger compositions, played in his unique hybrid banjo style. Long out of print, you can hear the full project on YouTube.
Outside of the musical and journalist worlds, Fred will be remembered for his love of animals, and his efforts to protect wild places, and the environment generally. His beloved cat also perished in the fire. In his younger days, Geiger was fond of bike riding, even long distances, and then walking when his advancing age made biking less sensible.
A Celebration of Life will be held at some point in the coming months, and will be announced on Fred’s Facebook page.
His family suggests any memorial donations be made to the International Bluegrass Music Association in Nashville, or the Natural Resource Defense Council in Washington, DC.
R.I.P., Fred Geiger.