David Royko has a nice feature in today’s edition of The Chicago Tribune on Noam Pikelny, Chicago native and current banjo man with The John Cowan Band. Noam is also a prominent part of the upcoming Chris Thile CD, How To Grow A Woman From The Ground, and Thile is quoted repeatedly in the article about his admiration for Noam’s musicianship.
“I get this feeling from Noam that I envy,” Thile says, “utterly remarkable. A lot of times, that diligence comes in the absence of talent–people that are that diligent because they have to be, where Noam is one of those very rare musicians that is that diligent in addition to being ludicrously talented.”
Current banjo pickers – and fans of the five string – know well the history of the instrument’s spikes in popularity, fueled in the 1950s -1970s by Earl Scruggs and the tremendous popularity of Flatt & Scruggs, and again in the present day by B?©la Fleck and his making the banjo conspicuous to music fans and consumers outside of bluegrass.
Still in his mid-20s, Pikelny falls squarely within the realm of young players who challenge the notion, once more widespread, that “you can’t do that on the banjo.” He has more than just a prodigious command of the technical aspects of manipulating his instrument, however, as he both composes and improvises with a flair and creative spirit that marks him as a true artist.
Cowan is quoted in Royko’s piece as stating that he sees in Noam the sort of passion he saw in Fleck when they were working together as members of New Grass Revival in the 1980s.
“He’s doing this thing that Bela used to do,” says Cowan about Pikelny, “which is, he’s playing his banjo from the time he gets up ’til the time he goes to bed, just non-stop.”
Noam gives a lot of credit for his development as a young banjo player to another Chicago banjo fixture, Special Consensus’ Greg Cahill.
Cahill’s influence “was immeasurable in my progression as a musician,” says Pikelny about his former teacher. “I really enjoy finding a way to play something on the banjo that hasn’t been played before, or an arrangement that hasn’t been played before, and I think Greg was the guy who sparked that for me.”
The full article is available on The Chicago Tribune web site, but a fairly cumbersome registration process is required to get to it online. It only takes a few moments to navigate, and will be worth the effort for admirers of Pikelny’s tremendous talent as a banjo player, or those interested in learning more about him and his music.