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The Virginia Folklife Program has partnered with the Front Porch, a roots music school in Charlottesville, Virginia, to celebrate the new release of a CD by the Folklife-supported apprenticeship team of Danny Knicely and Jack Dunlap. Other concert performers will include Jared Pool and Neil Knicely.Buy CD »
About Chop, Shred, & Split: A Mandolin Player’s Apprenticeship
CD Liner Notes by Jon Lohman, Virginia State Folklorist
I can’t remember the first time I saw Danny Knicely play, which I find somewhat curious since he is one of the most remarkably talented musicians I’ve ever heard. Perhaps it’s because he is so ubiquitous in musical settings, usually supporting other artists, on the concert stage, in the recording studio, or backing up musicians of all ages and levels in some fiddle contest. Maybe too it’s because every time you hear him is a little bit like a first time. Each lick he plays on any of the stringed instruments he’s mastered—whether it’s the mandolin, the guitar, the fiddle, or the bouzouki—sounds remarkably fresh, immediate, and decidedly present. Danny is equally comfortable playing with an old time banjo picker at a campsite in Galax as he is with a Malian n’goni player on a tour in France, and while he remains bafflingly unfamiliar to many, he has played all over the globe. He is truly a musicians’ musician and was the perfect candidate for our Folklife Apprenticeship Program.
The Virginia Folklife Apprenticeships pair experienced master artists in a wide range of traditional arts and skills with gifted and dedicated apprentices for a one-on-one, nine-month learning experience, in order to help ensure that a particular art form is passed on in ways that are conscious of history and faithful to tradition. Since its inception in 2003, the program has sponsored nearly 150 apprenticeships in everything from old time fiddling to South Asian tabla playing, from blacksmithing to hot rod car building, from country ham curing to Mexican mole making.
Danny is easily one of the youngest master artists we’ve ever had in our program, but his selection as a master was a no brainer. When I approached Danny about the idea, he already had an apprentice in mind. Danny’s choice, Jack Dunlap, of Winchester, Virginia, is already a musician of incredible depth who plays mandolin in the critically acclaimed bluegrass band, Bud’s Collective. While I hadn’t previously been introduced to Jack, I was immediately aware of who he was, as I’ve watched him grow up, literally and musically, at festivals and fiddlers conventions around Virginia. Jack can always be found at the jams that go the latest and his passion for the mandolin is undeniably apparent. Jack fit the mold of the apprentice perfectly—the apprenticeships are not meant for those who enter into them casually, or for those picking up the tradition for the first time. When I called Jack to offer him the apprenticeship with Danny, he answered from the side of the road as his car had just broken down. Suffice it to say, his day took a decidedly better turn.
This album is a record of the fruits of Danny and Jack’s apprenticeship, and it can also be thought of as a key aspect of the apprenticeship itself. This apprenticeship isn’t only about learning the fine points of playing the mandolin, but about what it means to be a mandolin player and professional musician. Entering into this kind of collaborative project with an experienced master like Danny, with all the accompanying decisions and negotiations regarding composition, arrangements, recording, and production, is an experience that will forever benefit Jack and, as you will learn after your first listen, will forever delight us all.
The selections on this project speak to Danny’s trademark versatility and creativity. Danny leads his apprentice on a musical expedition that seamlessly transcends the boundaries of genre. You’ll be treated to a collection of originals that span the gamut from bluegrass to swing, funk, polka, and even the stylings of the late South Indian mandolin master U. Srinivas, memorialized in their joint composition “Wish U. Was Here.” These originals are complemented with an eclectic array of covers by the likes of Benny Goodman, Rex McGee, and the French jazz musician Tchavolo Schmitt, who fittingly portrayed a music teacher in the film Swing.
Jack’s apprenticeship with Danny was truly a Virginia affair. The album was recorded in Millwood, using microphones made by John Peluso of Willis. Danny’s mandolin was built by John Fraley of Dungannon. Jack’s mandolin was built by Scott Carey of Culpeper, and his guitar was built by Martin Fair of Neersville. Like the apprenticeship, support for this recording project was provided by the Virginia Folklife Program, the state center for the documentation, presentation, celebration and support of Virginia’s rich cultural folkways.
Apprenticeships often yield surprising results. Danny will be the first to say that he’s benefited as much Jack has. Their time together has enriched us all through this recording.
The Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program is generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and an anonymous donor.