Folklife 208

Danny Knicely Quartet featuring Bert Carlson

Jazz and Swing Guitar
Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Photo by: Pat Jarrett

Photo by: Pat Jarrett

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has long been fertile ground for the development of old-time and bluegrass music, and native son Danny Knicely is among the very finest musicians of his generation to emerge from this deeply rich musical region. While Danny has distinguished himself as one of bluegrass and old time’s most accomplished and sought-after players, performing and recording with countless artists and winning many awards and contests in mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and flatfoot dancing, his musical appetite has never been constrained to any particular genre. Collaborating with artists from the mountains of Asia to the shores of West Africa, Danny has a chameleon-like ability to fit into any musical situation. For his 2018 Virginia Folklife Stage performance, Danny will venture into jazz, with his quartet featuring Virginia jazz and swing guitar master Bert Carlson.

While Virginia is seldom associated with jazz, the Commonwealth has produced a disproportionate number of artists who have put their indelible stamp on this uniquely American music. Virginia has produced some of the most celebrated jazz vocalists including Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Ruth Brown, and Keely Smith. Accompanying these vocalists were a cadre of highly influential and revered guitarists. Bert Carlson, of Bath County, follows in the footsteps of these luminary jazz guitar masters, such as Charlie Byrd, Steve Jordan, and Tiny Grimes. Like Danny, Bert was not classically trained, learning instead through what he calls the old fashioned way, “at the gig—sink or swim.” He has since performed hundreds of dates each year and mentored many students in his native Illinois and later Washington, D.C., before settling down in Bath County, Virginia, in 2001. Bert is currently apprenticing Danny in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. Having Danny assume the role of apprentice might at first seem curious, but in truth Danny and Bert have been learning from one another since they met. “I’ve known Danny for 18 years,” Bert says. “Over that time, he’s stolen my jazz licks and I've stolen his bluegrass licks. We haven't really talked about it. We just steal.” The Danny Knicely Quartet is rounded out by Jon Nazdin on bass and Aimee Curl on vocals and guitar. A Washington D.C. native, Jon is a master of multiple genres on double and electric bass, and has performed with George Benson, Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, Branford Marsalis, among others. Aimee, from Taylorstown, Virginia, grew up singing in church and with her family. In her early teens, she learned the lap dulcimer and joined her first band. She soon took up the electric bass and toured the country with the band ThaMuseMeant. Aimee later attended the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, where she picked up the upright bass fiddle and honed her distinctive vocal style. Having returned to Virginia, Aimee performs with her partner Danny in the band Furnace Mountain and innumerable other projects across the nation and overseas.