The lady behind the “blue violin” may not be a true native to the state of Oklahoma; however, Jana Jae has come full circle back to her roots.
Born to graduates of The Juilliard School of Music in New York City, this little gal was welcomed into the world in Great Falls, Montana. Her father was in the Air Force so home was ALL over, from New York to Oklahoma. Her maternal grandparents were wheat farmers, and the Dust Bowl moved them to Idaho. It was at the age of 9, after Jana’s parents divorced, that she and her mom moved to Idaho to live with her grandparents.
At the tender age of two, Jana was introduced to the classic style of violin on a 1/8th size fiddle. Her inspiration, her maternal grandfather, a country champion fiddler, directed Jana in her experience of playing by ear. Attending the National Old Time Fiddler Contest, Jae remembers telling her Mom, “It’s bluegrass, and I love it.”
In the following years, Jae was honored with many awards, including Interlochan and the International String Congress. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in music. Jana found her niche, as her love for the violin and passion for the fiddle led her to the path that she trods today.
As newlyweds, Jana and her husband moved to Redding, California. Jana was teaching at the college, as well as the elementary schools, but somehow, as most musicians do, she found the time to start her own bluegrass band, Clearcreek. It just so happened that Buck Owens was performing two shows at the college, and Jana was taken backstage where Buck said: “I hear you play the fiddle. During the second show, come on stage and play Orange Blossom Special with us.” Of course Jana was thrilled with the opportunity, and she and Don Rich set the stage on fire that night with a connection that was captivating for everyone.
Tragedy struck the Buckaroos when Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1974. Jae had been staying in touch with Owen’s manager, Jack McFadden, in hopes of getting him to book her bluegrass band, when the unexpected occured.
As Jana tells it…
“Clearcreek was booked at Tia Maria’s in Sacramento, when my hotel phone rang. It was Jack, ‘Jana, you need to get to Bakersfield as soon as possible.’ I hesitated as my band was booked for the evening, and said I can’t do that tonight. Jack insisted, I packed, and next thing you know I was in Bakersfield waiting on Buck Owens. I spent my dime to get to Bakersfield, they paid for my room. Jack told me, ‘Stay in your hotel room, order food service, I will call you when Buck is ready.’
I learned every tune that Buck was playing, Every day Jack would call and tell me to stay put. I had just about given up, when Jack called and told me, ‘I will be there in 10 minutes. Pack your stuff.’
I had been living in that hotel room for a week, and knew that I couldn’t be dressed for an audition in 10 minutes, but somehow I made it. I arrived at the studio, and after a 4 hour audition and playing everything from bluegrass to classical, Buck left. Jack said, ‘Let’s go to the airport.’ I thought I was going back to Sacramento, but instead I flew to Vegas and began my career with Buck Owens. Pamm, I am not kidding you, this is how it really happened.”
She made her debut in Vegas with Buck Owens, which opened doors and her career began to soar. Owens purchased a blue, Italian-made fiddle for Jana Jae, which she still plays today. Becoming a regular member of Hee Haw, she has found herself on the Tonight Show, Music City Tonight, Nashville Now, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and the March of Dimes Telethon. With appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, Montreux Jazz Festival (in Switzerland), World Expos (in Spain), Wembly Festival (in England), and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Jana Jae has found herself a judge at many festivals including Weiser (three times), where it all began for her.
Recently Jana Jae and Barry “Bones” Patton represented Oklahoma on the Silk-road Tour in China. She and the “REAL Cowboy in the Black Hat” had lines of fans, cheering them on while on tour. From bluegrass, to classical symphonic performances with some of the best talents around, including Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Roy Clark, just to skim the surface, Jana Jae has fiddled her way to success. She has built a name for herself as a soloist and her unique blend of every genre of music leaves audiences awestruck while garnering rave reviews.
Jana Jae now has her own festival in Grove Oklahoma on the first weekend of June, The American Heritage Music Festival. At this three day festival, you can catch some of the best. This year, the festival is sponsoring their first ever Bluegrass To Bob Wills Acoustic showdown. There will be a $1000 cash prize to the winning band.
Jana Jae still finds time to teach, and mentors many a violinist.
When asked what made her what she is today, “I have to give the credit to Buck.“ Buck Owens and Hee Haw were her break, the break she had been waiting for. Up until Owen’s death in 2006, he faithfully called Jana every Sunday.
As Jana and I reminisced about her life in the music world, I could sense her blue fiddle is anywhere but near retirement.