March 15 2017 02:25 PM

Jayme Stone digs for gems from Alan Lomax’s archives

Banjoist Jayme Stone comes to the Ten Pound Fiddle Wednesday. His 2015 album, “Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project,” features obscure songs from Alan Lomax’s folk music archives.
Photo by Michael Wilson

Like many folk musicians, banjoist Jayme Stone has spent a lot of time with the field recordings made by Alan Lomax, one of the 20th century’s most important folk musicologists. But a recent encounter with biographer John Szwed’s “Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World” really got Stone’s gears turning.

“I started listening voraciously again to every recording that was mentioned in the book,” Stone said. “Hearing the stories behind songs that I knew and then getting hit with all of these other, more arcane corners of the collection was really eye- and ear-opening.”

This reawakened interest led to a recording project, 2015’s “Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project,” which features 19 songs from Lomax’s archives.

“I thought, ‘What if I gathered together some of my favorite musicians to make new versions?” Stone said. “‘Lomax Project’ was more of a family gathering than a band.”

Stone comes to Lansing Wednesday for a rare midweek Ten Pound Fiddle show at Old Town’s UrbanBeat Event Center. The concert will features songs from “Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project,” as well as songs from his upcoming album “Jayme Stone’s Folklife,” which is slated for an April 7 release.

Lomax collected field recordings that span 70 years, and his collection contains thousands of sound recordings, images and moving pictures. The collection is available to the public at the American Folklife Center. For Stone, who describes himself as “more of a modern player with contemporary influences,” Lomax’s recordings of early 20th century folk music are a good way to reconnect with the roots of American music.

“I’ve loved going back to old source recordings to learn tunes and songs,” Stone said. “Alan Lomax’s recordings, they’ve always sort of been a touchstone for me. I’ve come back to them over the years and read a couple of his books.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Stone, 38, started playing banjo 22 years ago. Before that, he played guitar, “but not that seriously.”

“I was a listener first,” he said. “I have always listened to kind of a huge cross-section of music and have been really interested in music from other countries.”

That healthy musical appetite eventually brought him to the music of Appalachia.

“When I was 16, I discovered old bluegrass music, which was one of many things that I fell in love with, and heard the banjo,” he said. “Then I went to see Béla Fleck play, and it connected all the dots.”

Stone will be accompanied Wednesday by accordionist Moira Smiley, fiddler Sumaia Jackson and bassist Joe Phillips.

“That’s been the regular touring band for about two years,” Stone said. “And before that, and for little pockets, I have toured with lots of other people.

Having a consistent band is much different than the “fleetingness” Stone experienced in past projects, where bands were put together for a single recording or tour.

“I love the people I’m making music with, and I still just feel really connected to these songs,” he said. “It’s just a great pleasure to get to continue to live with them and share them and inhabit the songs and have them inhabit me. It feels like a great gift to be around this music.”

Stone said his upcoming album, “Folklife,” also “blows the dust off” of older tunes from a variety of music archives, but focuses on “Creole calypsos and stomp-down Appalachian dance tunes.” Stone said he doesn’t know if using old source material will be the core of all of his future records, but so far he has found success reanimating music that has been all but forgotten.

“There’s a little church 20 minutes down the road from where I live in Boulder County, Colo., and they started singing ‘I Want to Hear Somebody Pray’ from the ‘Lomax Project’ at their Sunday church service. I was really moved to hear that,” Stone said. “They never would have heard the original recording, because it was just out there on archive, and no one had ever done a cover of it before.”


Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 22
$20/$18 members/$5 students
UrbanBeat Event Center
1213 Turner St., Lansing
(517) 331-8440, urbanbeatevents.com