George Jackson – interview + tunes

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I grew up about as far away geographically from the regions where old-time music originated as you could imagine, but American culture was all around me in my home country of New Zealand, in terms of a cultural fascination with food, movies, television and of course music! 

I took a journey through a lot of different music en route to where I now consider home, both physically and musically; in Nashville, TN and with old-time and other string band music. Fiddle music was always around in my house as a child. Both of my parents were great and eclectic fiddlers, they played everything from Scottish and Irish music to bluegrass, blues and swing. Growing up I learned Scottish music and highland dancing, as well as bluegrass fiddle and banjo. I started playing fiddle young, but was more interested in electric bass until I went to my first fiddle camp in Wellington, NZ at age 14. The camp was focused on Scottish fiddling but in my second year attending I met an American mentor Hanneke Cassel, a great fiddler from Boston. She showed me my first old-time tune (Duck River) and gave me a few mix CDs of contemporary American music which were mind-blowing for me. From then on, I could never really get American music out of my bones.

Old-time music appealed to me even more after burning out at the end of Jazz school, and finding the stress and egos involved in university-based music and improvising to be overwhelming and anxiety inducing. I took a trip to Clifftop in 2012 with my friend and fellow first time attendee Andrew Small. I found the experience to be a breath of fresh air, the chance to focus on melody and rhythm, leaving some of the stress from other styles behind and yet still making really fun and exciting music was infectious. I’ve loved diving further down the old-time music rabbit hole ever since. Some of my initial old-time fiddle influences or “gateway” musicians include Bruce Molsky, Brittany Haas, Rafe Stefanini, Tatiana Hargreaves, John Engle and Sammy Lind. Recently I’ve been thriving on looking further back and learning the historic music from Appalachian musicians in West Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia as well as fiddlers from the area where I now live, in Middle Tennessee and regions close by such as East Tennessee and Kentucky. Some of my current influences and favourites in the historical department include Hiram Stamper, John Salyer, John Lusk, Frank Patterson, Ed Haley and so many more. 

I love to write fiddle tunes and I feel like it’s a great way for me to explore my personal authenticity as a foreigner and immigrant, in this genre. The album of original tunes I put out in 2019 (Time and Place) was a way to dip my toe into the music community here while being as true to myself and my experiences as possible. My eclectic history most likely shows in a lot in the tunes I write. They might perhaps have a Scottish fiddle moment or an unconventional chord progression at times, which is just pieces of my past coming out in the expression of making something that I think also falls somewhere in the old-time world. I like to remember that someone, somewhere wrote the classics like Soldiers Joy or Billy In The Low Ground, and modern tune writers such as Garry Harrison show us that writing new music is still a part of this long tradition.

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