I’ve decided to resume writing here at the b part. It’s been a five year hiatus since my last post but there’s a fair bit shakin on the music front. Most notably, Li’l Liza Jane: A Movie About A Song. It’s a documentary film that I’ve been working on since September with a dear friend, writer Dan Gutstein.
The concept for the film sprung from a post about the tune Li’l Liza Jane on his blog Blood & Gustein last spring. Though mostly a fiction writer and poet, Dan occasionally explores forgotten tunes from the middle of the 20th century — jump blues, early R&B, early soul, early rock, and so forth. Friends affectionately call him the “Alan Lomax of the Internet”. As part of his research he discovered Art Neville’s 1965 recording of Little Liza Jane on Cinderella Records. Over time he began to track down more Liza Jane songs, including versions by Nina Simone, Slim Harpo, Fats Domino, and more. As he explains it, “half the time I went looking for R&B Liza songs, I also came across country fiddle and banjo versions, often with very different lyrics and melodies.”
Dan’s post struck a chord. I knew a couple of versions of Liza Jane myself — having played one version for my audition at East Tennessee State where I studied fiddle a few years back, back when this blog was conceived. Liza Jane was one of the first tunes I learned on the fiddle and I recall an awkward afternoon back in 2010 at the Rockbridge Music Festival in southwestern Virginia, working out the notes and bow strokes with a hipster hillbilly. Those were the early days when my obsession with old time fiddling was kicking into high gear.
Li’l Liza Jane is a simple tune musically — but the diversity of artists that have performed it, and it’s dual evolution in both Appalachia and as a jazz standard suggest something quite a bit more profound. And so a project was born. I’m not going to say too much more here about this film, but you can follow updates on it on our website. We’re in the early stages, pre-production as they say, but have high hopes and dreams.
All this being said, I am excited to revive the b part with news of this film…and there is more to come. Now that Wyoming is my home, I plan to delve into the Americana of the mountain west, everything from cowboy ballads to western swing and more. Stay tuned!