Timeline of the Banjo in New Orleans by Seva Venet

January 2020 article for Offbeat Magazine
The first banjo ever documented in New Orleans was in 1819. British-American architect Benjamin Latrobe illustrated the instrument as he witnessed it during a performance in Congo Square. It was a Haitian Banja, a masterpiece of beauty and craftsmanship, and closely related to its African ancestors.

In the decades following came a scattering of banjo references in New Orleans. A witness to a voodoo ceremony in 1825 noted: “… A banjo-player, too, sprang up, and pandemonium was unloosed.” A newspaper review in 1830 mentioned “Butler’s Banjow,” a very rare mention of the legendary banjoist John “Picayune” Butler. And in 1841, a dance party was reported in which “banjos were knocked in—and ivories were knocked out.” Significantly, these first sightings were all of people with African and Afro/Caribbean heritage. The instruments would have probably been crafted by their owners.
Read full article here:

New CD available "Musieu Bainjo"

New CD Seva Venet New Orleans Banjo Vol. 1 "Musieu Bainjo" available now at the Louisiana Music Factory http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/?s=seva+venet&x=0&y=0

Interview from KGNU Denver

On Jan. 15 I was interviewed by Joanne Cole on her "Dixieland Marmalade" program. Here is the link:

3rd Nomination by Offbeat Magazine for Best Banjo Player

Once Again, nominated for best banjo player in Offbeat Magazine's Best of the Beat awards in the "other instrument" category.

Tom McDermott's review of the new CD in Offbeat Magazine

In addition to playing hundreds [thousands] of gigs in his 15 years in the Crescent City, guitarist/banjoist Seva Venet has done some serious study of the early string bands of New Orleans.

Like the mandolin orchestras which used to populate the land, this is a nearly extinct genre: How often today do you hear, for instance, a quartet of mandolin, fiddle, banjo and upright bass playing ragtime and early jazz?

For this listener, the disc is most exciting when it touches on music that's tangential to what we usually consider the prime elements that made up early jazz. These include "El Zopilote Mojado" (a Mexican Polka), which clarinetist James Evans, violinist Matt Rhody and Venet pull off with a superb brio; and the medley of "Creole Belles/Aloha Oe/My Bucket's Got a Hole in it."

It's great fun to hear "Belles" played with a tango rhythm (as it undoubtedly could've been back in the day) and to realize that "Aloha Oe" (the "Saints" of Hawaiian music) was part of the New Orleans mix in 1884.

This disc also presents Seva's reimagining of what a quadrille might have sounded like by an 1880s New Orleans string band, an ambitious undertaking. By taking on this project, Venet has delved into the areas where not many musicologists have wandered (though at the same time he gives credit to those who've done important research).

Fifteen pages of notes accompany the CD, and Emilie Rhys' beautiful translation of a photo of an old-time trio into her singular ink-drawing style is the icing on this cake.

Tom McDermott - Offbeat Magazine January, 2015

The Way This Music Was

By Steve Roeser
Seva Venet gives every indication that his love of traditional New Orleans music forms is rock solid, not a passing fancy. As good as his Mens Working album was/is, in every respect, My Bayou Home exceeds it. Venet's steady growth as a musician, bandleader and "musical instigator" is more than evident, and his breakout as a songwriter (most of the tunes are his) is truly impressive.

Predictably (and understandably), many people associate the musical history and heritage of New Orleans with the sound of jazz bands (large or small), ones usually dominated by trumpet players (Satchmo, Al Hirt, countless others) and/or clarinet players (i.e., Pete Fountain). Venet's Storyville group (their first recorded outing was a live performance) is certainly jazz-influenced, if not jazz-steeped, but cannot be viewed as strictly a jazz outfit--there are no horns, no drums, no piano.

Venet is focusing his talents and career dedication on a different facet of the Crescent City's deep cultural roots, yet an area of musical performance (played on vintage guitars) that is just as valid, albeit not as celebrated or well-known. In conjunction with his recording efforts, he has also delved into scholarly research and writing on the subject of this music (www.offbeat.com/author/seva-venet/) for Offbeat Magazine: "New Orleans String Bands at the Turn of the Century."

Several musicians return from the Mens Working album (Matt Rhody, Lars Edegran) to assist Venet in realizing his vision of credibly updating music born more than a hundred years ago--which was decades before New Orleans (quite arguably) became the birthplace of rock 'n' roll.

And on this album Venet & Co. had the "luxury" of twice the recording time: TWO days, instead of one! A fine effort, and completely enjoyable, to boot.
5 stars

Seva Venet's review of

When one thinks of a string band performing jazz what will readily come to mind will probably be an ensemble modeled after a Django Reinhardt band. There is, however, an exciting string jazz ensemble that predates the Hot-clubs: the New Orleans string bands that were swinging hot when Louis Armstrong was still in short pants. Edmond "Doc" Souchon's band the 6 7/8 string band of New Orleans formed around 1911 modeled itself after the string bands the members heard around New Orleans, especially around the Storyville district where Armstrong delivered coal, sold papers and got his first professional gig subbing for Joe "King" Oliver. The Storyville Stringband has been picking its way into the 21st century carrying a torch that was reduced to embers after the passing of Souchon in the late 1960's.
On their 2nd CD "My Bayou Home", the Storyville Stringband plays all acoustic mostly vintage string instruments including a 1929 National triolian steel guitar, a 1937 Gibson L7, a 2011 Deering V-6 Senator 6 string banjo, a 1927 Vega Little wonder banjo mandolin, a 1930 Martin, 1937 National triolian tenor guitar, violin, mandolin, and upright bass. The CD was recorded live in two sessions featuring different configurations of the above instrumentation with half the songs featuring a four piece combo of bass, rhythm guitar, mandolin or violin, and lead acoustic guitar or "Hawaiian" style slide. The other half of the CD features, instead of mandolin and violin, a mandolin banjo and/or a tenor guitar. Also, the 6 string banjo is featured on two songs. The musicians range from Frenchman Street all stars to veterans of the New Orleans 1960s scene including Matt Rhody (New Orleans Hot Club clique) on mandolin and violin, John Parker (in demand rhythm guitarist in New Orleans and grandson of Edmond "Doc" Souchon) on rhythm guitar and vocals, Lars Edegran (Ragtime Orchestra, 1960's Preservation Hall and One 'Mo Time veteran) on tenor guitar, Sammy Rimington (famous for his clarinet and alto sax and contributions to the 1960's New Orleans jazz era) on banjo mandolin, Jesse Boyd (an omnipresent New Orleans bassist and artist in his own right) on bass, and of course Seva Venet (leader) on steel guitar, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, banjo and vocals. Greg Stafford is a featured vocalist on the opening song.
"My Bayou Home" is a remarkable document continuing a traditional American art form in a respectful and loving treatment. Founder and leader of the Storyville Stringband, New Orleans guitarist, banjoist, bandleader, historian, educator, author, composer, arranger, singer and songwriter Seva Venet got his apprenticeship busking on the streets of New Orleans performing for years with Tuba Fats and His Chosen Few and continuing his work as a journeyman over the last decade on the job in New Orleans and abroad with Lionel Ferbos, Dr. Michael White, Greg Stafford, the Treme Brass Band, Shannon Powell, Lars Edegran, Tommy Sanction, Clive Wilson and other New Orleans traditional jazz greats.
On this, his latest recording, "My Bayou Home," is a collection of mostly original tunes that delve deep into New Orleans traditional roots music. Though any one of these songs would be perfect for a complete jazz ensemble (drums, piano, trumpet, trombone, clarinet or sax, guitar or banjo, and bass), they are presented here in two configurations of string ensembles loosely modeled after the early string bands of New Orleans (most notably the exciting 6 7/8 string band). The first cut, "Downtown 2nd Line," follows in the footsteps of the 6 7/8 ensemble by featuring a "Hawaiian" steel guitar playing the lead melody (that which would be role of the trumpet in a horn ensemble) and improvising with mandolin and a tenor resonator playing fills and improvised solos in a collective improvisational style identified with the New Orleans traditional jazz style. This song has been performed many times with a full traditional jazz ensemble at Preservation Hall and fits perfectly in the context of that venue and the bands performing a traditional New Orleans jazz repertoire. The performance on the CD features a spirited vocal by internationally renown trumpeter, singer, and bandleader Greg Stafford. There is a wonderful video on YouTube of this performance (posted by the composer) showing scenes of the Black Men of Labor Parade in New Orleans including, of course, one of the leaders of that organization: Greg Stafford.
The second cut, "I Wanna Dance" is one of three pieces on the CD that explores the "Spanish" or "Latin tinge" that Jelly Roll Morton pointed out as being an integral part of jazz music. "I Wanna Dance" is in a Caribbean vein in the spirt of the classic "St. Thomas" that is a standard in any traditional New Orleans jazz ensemble. This performance features New Orleans string master Matt Rhody on violin and Venet playing hot improvisations on an acoustic 1937 Gibson L7.
The third cut on the CD brings another latin tinged composition, this time utilizing the Cuban clave rhythm and celebrating the deep connection between Cuba and New Orleans with a tip of the hat at an all-time Cuban hit that was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1930 and more recently by the Preservation Hall Band: El Manisero (aka The Peanut Vendor.) Venet here sings of a well known New Orleans street vendor in "The Okra Vendor." If you've ever lived in New Orleans for any period of time in the uptown, downtown or mid-city neighborhoods you've probably been pleasantly surprised by this itinerate seller of fruits and vegetable calling out his wares as he makes his way through New Orleans: the semi-tropic, Northern-most city of the Caribbean.
"My Bayou Home" continues with instrumental and vocal songs tastefully influenced by Jelly Roll Morton, Ragtime (there are three rags here), traditional spiritual hymns (the George Lewis inspired title track), New Orleans string bands (with a vocal feature by the rhythm guitarist John Parker whose grandfather was the leader and founder of the 6 7/8 string band), a celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans (aptly titled "Celebrate!" and building on the popular latin cinquillo rhythm) as well as two Hawaiian numbers, including the popular Louis Armstrong hit "Song of the Islands" and featuring, again, Venet on his 1929 National triolian steel guitar. --Seva Venet 3/26/13

Review of My Bayou Home CD

http://www.offbeat.com/2013/02/01/seva-venet-presents-storyville-stringband-new-orleans-my-bayou-home-independent/SEVA VENET PRESENTS THE STORYVILLE STRINGBAND OF NEW ORLEANS
My Bayou Home

It's refreshing to hear a record of traditional New Orleans music not stuffed with the old warhorse tunes. I love to hear "Muskrat Ramble," but nobody needs to record it any more. Seva Venet's Storyville Stringband's My Bayou Home is chock-full of mostly Venet's originals with a couple rare tunes from the first 30 years of the 20th century. This CD has a beautiful tone and lilt. It swings with a light touch and encompasses a bit of that "Spanish Tinge" that Jelly Roll Morton opined was the main ingredient in jazz. Venet's tunes vary from the sweet ode to Mr. Okra, "The Okra Vendor," with its nod to the classic "Peanut Vendor", to the calm rhythms and peaceful lyricism of "Sauvage Bleu" that meanders much like the bayou of the same name. There are also a couple of party and parade tunes such as "Downtown Second Line" with Gregg Stafford on guest vocals and the danceable, New Orleans-themed "Celebrate." The band here is tight without being suffocating. Venet's banjo and guitar ring out in the solos and riff smooth chords for the rhythm. Matt Rhody's violin sings beautiful melodies, as do Sammy Rimington's mandolin and Lars Edegran's tenor guitar. Unsung bass hero Jesse Boyd is so steady and his notes so precise that the lack of percussion is barely noticed. My Bayou Home will satisfy any lover of New Orleans music, or good music in general. And like his fellow bandleaders/composers Dr. Michael White, Tom McDermott, Tim Laughlin, Sara Quintana and many others, Venet's record shows there is great deal of life and originality remaining in traditional jazz.

01 February 2013 � by David Kunian

CD review by Louis Lince New Orleans Music Magazine

Seva Venet arrived in New Orleans from California some five years ago [sic] and established himself in the city as a guitar and banjo player that band leaders liked to book. This was evidenced in 2007 with his first recording for GHB Mens Working which featured what one may call some of the usual suspects - Lars Edegran. Charlie Fardella, Tom Saunders to name but three. That CD was different in that on all but one of the tracks a washboard was used instead of drums, and also a violin was present. Seva played slide guitar on several tracks.
Historically, string bands were an important part of the local culture but they gradually died out. However, cutting forward to the present, this new recording is reminiscent of the famous New Orleans 6 7/8 string band: the musicians recreate a long gone era but in their own styles. In fact John Parker is the grandson of Dr. Edmund Souchon. a founder member of the 6 7/8 band.
Jazz Me Blues has never been a favorite of mine, but with the way it's played here, the tempo is relaxed and melodic-an object lesson in playing in a relaxed but swinging manner. City Park Strut, an original Venet composition has some unexpected but interesting chord changes. The old Zez Confrey tune Stumbling is given a elegant outing, as is the old warhorse Fidgety Feet, John Parker contributes a vocal on Margie
The musicians work well with each other-Matt Rhody's violin and mandolin playing fuses effortlessly with the over sound. The addition of Steve Blailock's electric guitar may be heresy to some but his contribution adds to the sum of the tradition. I can only speak for myself, but this is a wonder recording of down home music from a bygone era. Seeing the band live in New Orleans in May this year only reinforces my view
Highly recommended

-Louis Lince New Orleans Music vol. 15 No. 5

review of Storyville Stringband CD

Seva Venet Presents the Storyville Stringband of New Orleans
01 July 2010 � by Jacob Leland

The Storyville String Band of New Orleans recorded its new release live at the Pavilion of Two Sisters in City Park in September 2009. It was a very well-received performance, as the CD documents. There's applause between tracks, and sometimes after solos that's more raucous than we might expect from the Friday evening crowd at a traditional string band performance.
The band earns that applause repeatedly. It explores material from the Louis Armstrong standby "Struttin' with Some Barbeque" to the gospel classic "Old Rugged Cross," to steel guitar player and bandleader Seva Venet's original composition "City Park Strut" (which, the recording captures someone saying on the bandstand, "just needs vocals"). John Parker (rhythm guitar), Matt Rhody (mandolin), and Kerry Washington (bass) keep the music chugging along, and the melody instruments swing throughout. The different melodies intertwine and interact with each other as the songs progress. Rhody, pulling double duty as usual, deserves mention for his violin work. He develops ideas distinctly his own while staying remarkably faithful to the aesthetic and the sound of the tradition within which he's working.
Venet includes liner notes that describe each song, and a rather extensive essay on Manuel "Fess" Manetta and string band jazz on Basin Street in the first two decades of the 20th Century. For all the band's historical acumen in both theory and practice, though, the arrangements on Seva Venet Presents� aren't quite what we would expect from a string band recording. Because they were performed live, the tracks all clock in over three minutes, and some get up towards six. That stretching affords the soloists room to breathe and makes room that didn't always exist for individual creativity in what can be a tradition-bound genre.

Reviews of Mens Working

!!!WWOZ recognized my CD "Mens Working" as being one of the best releases during Jazz Fest of 2008. This is great news to be put among Dr. Michael White, Dr. John, John Boutte and Evan Christopher. WWOZ was also recognized as being one of the best radio stations in the world ( by Esquire Magazine (2008), Rolling Stone Magazine (2008) and Jazz Times (2008))!!!

Nominated for "Best Tradional Jazz Album of 2009" Offbeat Magazine

... It's refreshing to find that he has been able to utilize his individuality to give a full fledged New Orleans jazz band a distinctively personal touch.

A unique 11 track CD from Seva Venet who plays New Orleans jazz on the National steel guitar. Each performance shows its roots in New Orleans jazz, from the composers and song selections to the artists that originally recorded the tunes to the musicians that performed on this session. An all star cast is assembled on this cd musicians who could bridge diverse influences to create the jazzy gumbo that could only be made in New Orleans. They can shift easily from blues to "trad jazz" to Latin to gospel to traditional New Orleans string band music as well as provide various accompaniments for Seva's vocal selections. This dynamism is exactly what this session is all about, along with the craftsmanship, artistry and experience of these musicians makes them shine through every take.

Offbeat Review

. . .Venet's original "Mens Working" is up next, "Mens" referring to the way Preservation Hall old timers used to identify themselves.

... this band is not only hot in the traditional sense, but one that provides some extremely swinging ensemble work

Offbeat review
by Steve Steinberg, August 2008

Reviews of What's in the Bag

Reviews of What's in the Bag

"Seva Venet takes his music seriously and is committed to New Orleans and the New Orleans musical tradition...All in all, it's a tasty and interesting collection of tunes presented in imaginative ways that maintained my interest from the swinging opener right through to the last note...there is, in short, much to like about this recording, and I am happy to recommend it."

Mississippi Rag on line Jazz publication September
by Tom Jacobsen 2007

Note for note online music publication

"...for anyone who picks up his album called What's In the Bag? and is not all that familiar with Venet or his music, you'd be more than likely to believe after hearing it that he's lived in New Orleans all his life. Not so, but he has taken to the trad jazz of New Orleans like a fish to water.

Note for note online music publication
by Steve Roeser 2007

Offbeat Magazine

"Seva's artistry brings home the beauty of the traditional jazz idiom....This is an impressive album..."

Scott Ritter, Offbeat Magazine, April 2005

Mississippi Rag

"...as well as a good deal of spirited ensemble (and individual) work by the fine band he assembled for the recording. This is a group of young guys in their 20s and 30s who are fully committed to our music. ..and Seva Venet, guitar, ... are young guys who are being heard more and more... "

Recent Record Release: Scott Obenschain: The Gypsy Drag
by Tom Jacobsen, Mississippi Rag, October 2003

Offbeat Magazine

CD Reviews
Offbeat Magazine, February 2003

On Scott Obenshain and Friends: The Gypsy Drag

"One of the best young trad jazz musicians to surface in our city in the last five years, pianist Scott Obenschain has toiled in relative obscurity... The Gypsy Drag is his fine debut, displaying his aggressively swinging ragtime and trad jazz chops, his capable vocals, and some fine sideman work... Seva Venet contributes adroit vintage steel guitar solos and vocals..."

Scott Obenshain and Friends: The Gypsy Drag
by Tom McDermott, Offbeat Magazine, October 2003