Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons Bring Joy to “Jazz Fiddler”

Photo credit: Amber Zbitnoff, shared courtesy of KEXP

Fiddle player Ben Hunter and banjo picker Joe Seamons became acquainted at the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues festival in Washington state after realizing they were both curious about various branches of the blues. The Pacific Northwest natives got to know each other even better when they toured in the band of Dom Flemons, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Now they have issued their own duo project, Take Yo Time. Check out the CMT Edge Q&A, then hear their invigorating version of the Memphis Sheiks’ “Jazz Fiddler.”

CMT Edge: How did you discover the song “Jazz Fiddler”?

Hunter: I was told about the song at a jam one night in Seattle, then came across it soon afterward on the Old Hat Records collection, Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow. And then listened to it until I could play it. The music’s got a hop to it, and the lyrics give this idea that “nobody does this — check it out.” That’s how the song goes: “This is something you never have seen/A man playin’ jazz on a violin/It’s too bad/It’s too bad.”

Seamons: We definitely try to check out all the music that folks throw our way, and when you come across a wonderful recording like this Mississippi Sheiks song and you’ve just been told about it in person, you know you have to dig into it. The other part of the lyrics that’s so great is “a stoopin’ heel and a tinkle toe,” two names of dances that folks would do. Ben likes to sing “tickle toe” because it makes you think of that itchin’ your feet get to dance when you hear a hot song.

What do you remember most about the recording session for it?

Seamons: After recording for two days, we were getting near the end of the session and knew we wanted to have our friend George Rezendes — who was also the engineer — lay down guitar for a song or two. We jam with George whenever we get the chance, so this was an opportunity to share his keen fingerpicking style with more people. … I remember launching into the first take and just beaming with joy because of the sprightly feel that George’s beautiful resonator guitar brought to the music.

I can hear the joy in the recording. What is it about this tune that makes you happy?

Hunter: When I listen to music, I like to move. With fast songs, I move with my body. With slow songs, I move in my mind. This song makes we want to dance! That positive feeling trumps everything else at that moment. That stimulant is delivered right off the bat in the song, almost like a knee-jerk reaction, something spontaneous and erratic. Yet another reason why I was so excited to have George play on this song … because, to me, he embodies in his playing those incredible rhythms found in ragtime and early jazz. It’s just too infectious, “too bad!”