Author Archives: Roger Weiss
Jim Bollman has been researching and collecting 19th century banjos and other fretted instruments since the 1960s. In 1974 he co-founded The Music Emporium, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Stuart Cohen and Eric Schoenberg. The Emporium, located now in Lexington, remains one of the premier acoustic instruments shops in the Northeast, if not the country. He retired from store management in 2003, but continues to buy, sell, and trade vintage instruments. To date he has sold more than 8,000 banjos.
For many years he’s played banjo and banjo ukulele with Roustabout, a Washington, DC-based string band. When not plucking his 1850’s H.D. Dawson Minstrel Banjo or his 1907 Fairbanks Imperial Electric, he can be found on the tennis court or at an old time music festival. Or perhaps on a dance floor.
Published in 1999, Jim Bollman and co-author Philip Gura offer the definitive history of the evolution of the banjo during the 19th century.
This handsome illustrated history traces the transformation of the banjo from primitive folk instrument to sophisticated musical machine and, in the process, offers a unique view of the music business in nineteenth-century America.
Philip Gura and James Bollman chart the evolution of “America’s instrument,” the five-stringed banjo, from its origins in the gourd instruments of enslaved Africans brought to the New World in the seventeenth century through its rise to the very pinnacle of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. Throughout, they look at how banjo craftsmen and manufacturers developed, built, and marketed their products to an American public immersed in the production and consumption of popular music.
With over 250 illustrations–including rare period photographs, minstrel broadsides, sheet music covers, and banjo tutors and tune books–America’s Instrument brings to life a fascinating aspect of American cultural history.
Jim’s banjos are featured in Zhenya Gene Senyak’s instructional guide (2008) for roots musicians who want to learn to play the banjo.
The Banjo Gathering
Peter Szego and Jim Bollman have been organizing a yearly symposium about the banjo for collectors, historians, dealers, and anyone else interested in early banjos. This annual event has taken place in different locations throughout the Eastern United States for the past 15 years.
The gathering provides a forum for scholarly papers, buying and selling, show and tell, music sessions and late-night jams.
Without any doubt, the best part of the weekend is the comaradarie shared among the participants, a veritable assembly of banjo geeks, but the weekend offers many other unique opportunities.
The 2014 Banjo Collectors Gathering took place in Morristown, N.J. Highlights of the weekend included:
- Tour of the Guinness Collection of Instruments and Automata at the Morris Museum, Morristown, among the largest collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata in the world;
- Jere Ryder, the collection curator and world-renowned authority on automata, presented a demonstration of the mechanical instruments, including several special banjo-related pieces — the Encore Automatic Banjo (c. 1901-04 in Newark, NJ) and the Muller Banjo Player Automaton (c.1900 (Germany). He also demonstrated many ragtime-related mechanical instruments and other automata ranging in size from miniscule to elephantine;
- Visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and a curator’s tour of almost 40 antebellum guitars by C. F. Martin, James Ashborn and other early guitar makers featured in “Inventing the American Guitar, the Pre-Civil War Innovations of C. F. Martin and His Contemporaries;”
- Private viewing of banjos and other fretted instruments, including the Hercules McCord cable-tension banjos and the infamous Boucher gourd banjo, in storage and rarely exhibited at the Met;
- Jerry Fabris, the curator in charge of recordings at the Thomas Edison Labs, met with the group to discuss Edison’s recording devices and todemonstrate one of Edison’s earliest devices by recording a banjo performance by Greg Adams and Hank Sapoznik.
For information about the next Banjo Gathering, contact: [email protected].