A. J. Weidt

The Tenor Banjo Music of A. J. Weidt

Albert J. Weidt (1866 Buffalo, New York – Newark 1945) was a leading banjo composer in America from around 1900 to 1930. His first publications were for the classic 5-string banjo, such as That Banjo Rag (mp3 performed by Rob MacKillop) and the effervescent Pink Lemonade (video link with animation by my daughter!). Weidt embraced the new tenor banjo, publishing at least five books of tunes of new compoisitions and arrangements. In style, the pieces cover ragtime, classical and jazz.

By far the biggest problem in performing Weidt’s tenor music is over whether to play swing style or ‘straight’. A straight rendition brings out the ragtime qualities of the music, while a swung style reveals a strong jazz influence. My Banjo Hangout friend, Beezaboy, made a copy of an article Weidt wrote for, Cadenza, an early 20th-century banjo magazine, where Weidt discusses technique. Two things seem appropriate here:

1. the 16th notes are too short to be played with a down stroke. This shines a (not very bright) light on swing or no swing. In swing, the 16th note would be longer, and there would be more time to recover the stroke to do another downstroke afterwards. This may be an indication that Weidt’s music is NOT to be swung. Admitedly, it is not conclusive!

2. When he refers to adding a little ‘jazz’, he does so in the contect of harmony, not rhythm. We too often discuss the rhythmical aspects of jazz. Clearly it is the harmony that is ‘jazzy’ to Weidt. And these pieces do sound more harmonically ‘advanced’ than most rags, in my experience.

I try to do what feels ‘right’, but often I could do the exact opposite and it would still feel right. Here are a couple of videos, played on an inexpensive Grafton short-scale 17-fret banjo:


Here are some performances of Weidt’s music on a cello banjo. The stretches are longer, and the right hand requires a bit more energy, but I think they sound great: