Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Striving For That Fingerlakes Sound!

Is there such a thing as Finger Lakes Music, or that Central New York sound? Is there any defining style for this area? Can you listen to a musician who is from this region and hear it in his or her style?  Do the styles of Chuck Mangione or Woody Woodhull define this region’s sound? (Anyone remember Woody)? How about Orleans who had band members from this area or, Elmira Heights Metal guitarist (formerly with  Overkill) Robbie Cannavino. Spyro Gyra or 10,000 Maniacs? Well, I guess those two are the sounds of western New York or Buffalo (along with Polka music).

Eastman and Ithaca have cranked out some great musicians. Of course the music schools (my own included) give students established repertoire and techniques to develope their “chops”.  But, what will set a musician apart? How do you take the influences of your hometown and family and make that a part of  your sound and style. Certainly New Orlean’s music and musicians have an identifiable sound and there are music styles unique to any of the large cities in the USA.  Many regions claim a blues style such as East Coast, West Coast, Chicago, Memphis, Missisippi Delta. Guitarist Pat Metheny came up with a midwestern Jazz sound. Rochester has some great artists like drummer Steve Gadd but when I hear him, all I think about is how great he is, not if he has a regional sound. 

As a Guitarist who has lived in the Elmira area most of my life and was trained in jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music,  I often think about how I got from Hank Williams, Sr. and the Beatles to Miles Davis and Pat Metheny. At 4 and 5 years old, I was actually into Hank Williams, Sr thanks to my father. My father’s Appalachian heritage and love of country and folk would have to be the  first influence along with what ever the television and radio stations hit my senses with. At that time, I remember hearing the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra and Dave Brubeck all on the same AM radio station.  Though I never got to hear him, my paternal grandfather played hillbilly banjo with a guitarist in the western Maryland area before settling with his (my) family in Elmira. If I have a central New York sound, maybe it’s from my maternal side as I often heard that grandfather play guitar or uke while singing old folk songs. This was on his Breesport, NY farm. The ancestors on that side of the family were early settlers of the Horseheads, NY area and their ancestors early settlers of  Auburn. (I have central New York running through my veins!) 

Once in college, I tried to suppress those childhood and teen influences and become close in sound to  jazz guitarists like Jim Hall or Joe Pass. (I am in no way comparing myself to those guys).  This began to change a few years ago and now when I play the jazz standards, I  feel fine with letting a little Appalachia and upstate farmland into my playing.  I guess that comes out a little like blue grass, flat picking, pop over some jazz chords.?.  I know when I perform,  the rock, blues and British invasion influences of my child and teen years has to show up in my playing.

Another influence on my style is the music I must play (or have played) in order to make a living such as the wedding and function band repertoire. As a young musician coming out of college all “psyched” to play jazz, I ran smack into the disco craze and had to make  money playing “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie”  in downtown Boston every weekend. (The syncopated Disco guitar  rhythms did help with the Jazz- Latin tunes, however). One of the first gigs I did coming back to Elmira was  a Country- Western “fill in”  job in a  northern Pennsylvania (Canton) bar with a great bass player who turned out to have played with everyone from Art Blakey to Jefferson Starship to Ray Charles. His partner who sang and played drums was a great guy but can only be described as the son of Pa Kettle. Of course, I said this was northern PA and they must have their own distinct sound. 

 So what is it one thinks of music wise when thinking of the upstate, Finger Lakes, Central and South Central New York area?

I think of HeavyClassicalDance RapRockJazz …and FunkWestern!

4 comments on “Striving For That Fingerlakes Sound!

  1. dches
    December 2, 2010

    If you listen to John Specker, the wild fiddler, you might learn that people in old-time music communities think of him as the Father of the Ithaca or Fingerlakes fiddle sound. I have heard stories about fiddlers in jam sessions at festivals being asked if they were from the Ithaca area because they could hear it in their playing.

  2. Casey Mallow
    December 3, 2010

    Another great award winning fiddler (originally from the Corning area I believe) is Jeff Wisor.

  3. dches
    April 8, 2011

    Yes, Casey, Jeff lived in Addison last I heard, and he plays bluegrass fiddle at a very prestigious level. He has toured with David Bromberg and was also requested by Linda Ronstadt herself. Not many can match his skill level around here.

    But John Specker has influenced a whole generation of Old Time fiddlers with his own sound.

  4. Casey Mallow
    April 8, 2011

    Since this last post I had the pleasure of playing with Jeff, though he played mandolin. Great player, great guy!

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This entry was posted on July 24, 2009 by and tagged , , , , .
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