BB makes a banjo ring
She received the Steve Martin Banjo Prize last fall. Her band, Mile Twelve, was named New Artist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
BB Bowness learned banjo in her native New Zealand – “It isn’t really a hotbed of bluegrass,” she says dryly. At age 12, a local carpenter agreed to teach her banjo. “I just got the banjo bug,” she says. Then a “family of fiddlers” moved to our town, and she finally had people to play with.
She attended one semester at UNCG her senior year as part of her New Zealand college’s exchange program. Why UNCG?
“It had a really great-looking jazz program,” she says. And the Tarheel State drew her.
“I knew it was a hotbed of bluegrass and old-time, in North Carolina.” She received a scholarship too.
She joined UNCG’s Old Time Music Ensemble, and she first played clawhammer style as a senior at the University.
She was the first banjo player to play in UNCG’s Miles Davis Jazz Ensembles, says Music Professor Steve Haines. She remains the only one. She played jazz at her New Zealand college and UNCG because bluegrass has improv like jazz, she explains. “All those technical skills would cross over.”
She played on her five-string. “I had my three picks. I did mostly single-string style,” emulating how Bela Fleck would approach the music.
“It was amazing – a very, very helpful time in my musical studies. Chad Eby and Steve Haines were the two main professors I had.” She has weekly lessons with guitarist Greg Hyslop.
“A lot of the classes were very small. That is a cool thing about UNCG.”
With small classes, the faculty got to know you well, and could give individual pointers. And she loved the social part of the music experience. The jazz students held “a big jazz hang” late every Monday night. She also joined in on an Irish music jam session each week at Tate Street Coffee House.
Now based in Boston, her band is building its following. Due to the pandemic, the band has not played together since February, 2020.
“We can play the straight-ahead ‘fast and loud’ thing and we do the more progressive sound as well,” she says. She focuses more on the arranging, less on the writing – but they all collaborate on both.
By Mike Harris