MUSIC scores Friday
By Mary Thomas
November 18, 2015
The PBS documentary series “Craft in America” marries the craftsmanship of making an instrument with that of playing it in “MUSIC,” the latest program in this excellent project, which debuts at 10 p.m. Friday on WQED-TV.
Six segments show the dedication and skill required to make a first-class musical instrument, each of which is brought to life by a notable performer. “MUSIC” begins with a graceful Hawaiian hula and closes with iconic folk singer Joan Baez and her classic Martin guitar.
• Four generations of the Kamaka family have, since 1916, made ukuleles in Hawaii, where they were introduced by Portuguese immigrants in the late 1800s. Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who has played since age 4, performs.
• David Monette and crew in Portland, Ore., make personalized trumpets for the likes of Wynton Marsalis. All of the staff play trumpet and were clients before becoming employees. Scotty Barnhart, longtime client and director of the Count Basie Orchestra, tries out the latest innovation.
• For four decades, Geoff Stelling and team have made bluegrass banjos in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. One client, Tony Ellis, has played on several Ken Burns documentaries, and the International Bluegrass Music Museum named him a “Pioneer of Bluegrass Music.”
• James Hartel makes banjos in Franklin, N.Y., based on designs from 19th-century American minstrelsy, the origins of which may be traced to slaves who arrived from Africa in the 17th century. Clients include musician, composer and singer Rhiannon Giddens, a founding member of the American roots band Carolina Chocolate Drops who played this year’s Arts Festival at the Point.
• Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra principal timpanist Joseph Pereira is a formidable musician who stretches his own calfskin drumheads to control timbre. We see him play with the orchestra in Walt Disney Concert Hall. His mallets are custom-made by Jason Ginter of JGpercussion.
• The Martin Guitar Co. has operated in Nazareth, Pa., since 1833, using a technique perfected by patriarch C.F. Martin six generations ago when he emigrated from Germany. It’s the oldest surviving maker of acoustic guitars in the world. Among the stellar cast of musicians who play Martins is Joan Baez, who says her first serious folk guitar was a Martin purchased in 1963 for about $250. When Martin staff took a Baez guitar apart to repair it they found a previous shop had inscribed “Too bad you’re a communist” on the inside. She closes the program with her composition “Diamonds and Rust.”