Another David McKnight Post

I posted yesterday about Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill violinist David McKnight, who passed away last night. In 2013 a reviewer from the IndyWeek newspaper called me “milquetoast.” David took umbrage and posted the following sweet and hilarious comment in my defense:

“I am really shocked by this “assessment” by the person who is privileged to serve as Music Editor of Independent Weekly. I am a free-lance writer myself and I respect the right of journalists to make critical comments in reviews, analysis pieces and commentaries in columns and articles so designated as opposed to straight news reporting.

But these editorial aspersions against the musicianship of Jason Harrod of Durham and New York are like ice hockey infractions such as cross-checking, interference and tripping. This journalistic slight is blatant, out of the blue, highly unjustified and not related to any thoughtful or sincere reviewing of the concert Jason Harrod brought to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Of course, the Indy Music Editor probably didn’t even attend the concert, no cierto? I don’t like press fights because they just make everybody feel miserable, but as one who has been playing music for many years in the clubs, coffee shops, restaurants and also showcasing “public arts in the streets” of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill as an ongoing protest against career-ending partisan political regulation of journalism in the Triangle, I am really upset that a star writer from such an important publication as Independent would “skate across the ice” to deliver a hit on such a creative, thoughtful and kind individual and marvelous singer-songwriter as Jason Harrod.

Maybe Independent has it in for songwriters and bands which can attract a following among the young people of the Triangle without subjecting them to the horrors of perdition and moral condemnation. Maybe Indy thinks that people such as Delta Rae and Jason Harrod should be targeted for ridicule because parents can bring their children to their concerts without fear or trepidation that their kids will be subjected to negative, abusive or violent song lyrics but instead wholesome sounds of songs about life, adventure, friendship, romance, discovery and personal fulfillment.

As for what Grayson Currin called Jason Harrod’s “milquetoast folk-rock,” I wish to state my view that Harrod’s songs are of the highest musical and harmonic sophistication. I was pleased to be invited to play violin on Jason’s great song “Carolina” at the Aug. 9 ArtsCenter concert. In fact, Jason also asked me to play on two other songs in the same concert, and I needed to call upon all the string music training I have acquired in playing classical orchestral music and “fiddle parts” for other folk, country, jazz and rock singer-songwriters in the Triangle in order to render a pleasing and harmonious “string section” parts for those inspiring Harrod originals. I wish we had had a “live recording” capability for this concert because then, as a violin-viola-mandolin-guitar player, I could put at least these three songs with violin accompaniment on a web site so that readers of Independent could listen and decide for themselves how these guitar-bass-violin-drum arrangements came together on the stage of the ArtsCenter auditorium. Then they could vote on whether the level of musical depth attained the level of good traditional “milquetoast folk-rock” or maybe even exceeded it!

I saw a number of people from the Triangle at the Jason Harrod concert who had heard me play in other settings but not with Jason, as we have only met a few times in the 20-plus years since Jason, as an aspiring young Durham singer-songwriter first jammed with our musicians on Ninth Street in Durham, including at the old Ninth Street Bar and Grill. Jason was well-received back in the early ’90s, and we are proud of his artistic and musical successes in going on the road all across this country in all the years since we first played on Ninth Street as well as his fine recordings through the first two decades of his music career.

Did Grayson Currin even listen to the most recent CD released by Jason Harrod? And as far as “wandering around on stage” is concerned, Harrod was anything but spaced out at his ArtsCenter concert. He was very focused, had excellent rapport with the audience, performed his two sets with great style, technical mastery and personal charm, and was enthusiastically received by those in attendance, answering their enthusiastic request for an encore at the close of the concert.

I wish I had seen this “pasting” of Jason Harrod by Independent before and not after I participated in the concert as a guest player at the acoustically pleasing ArtsCenter because I could have told my friends there that I would try to exceed the expectations of “milquetoast” fiddling and try at least for some crispier Melba Toast string work! Indeed, even in these later years of instrumental performance, I was just as “keyed up” for this show as for those “in the good ol’ days of the ’70s and ’80s.” I consider Jason Harrod’s great singing and guitar-playing, as well as his fine band accompaniment, as being on a similarly high level of artistic tone, quality, content and exposition as the music of other great Triangle musicians I have worked with including the late Brother Yusef Salim, Rebecca and the Hi-Tones, the Duke Street Dogs, Pattie and Jack LeSueur, Jewelsong, Bruce Emery, the David Spencer Band of Raleigh, Alan Wolf, David King, the Triangle Folk Jam, and Cleaver Smith & Swenson.

Maybe it is Independent’s philosophy that people who simply live and work in Durham and the Triangle cannot be considered candidates for compelling vocal and instrumental musicianship. Oh well, all is not lost. It won’t be long before the Ciompi Quartet will be firing up on all cylinders for the 2013-14 season. The Ciompi Quartet will be teaming up in September with the highly popular folk duo, the Kruger Brothers, in the refurbished Baldwin Auditorium at Duke, and I already have a ticket, so I am hoping there will be plenty of wine and cheese, or at least some fancy milquetoast, at any receptions marking this promising classical-folk concert collaboration.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the three Jason Harrod songs I played on at The ArtsCenter were in the keys of F, G and A Flat. Just as the key of E Major has four sharps, the key of A-Flat Major has four flats. So if you play a major scale from bottom to top in A Flat Major, you will be these notes: A-Flat, B-Flat, C, D-Flat, E-Flat, F, G, A-Flat. If you start out on the G string of the violin, you play the low A-Flat note with the first finger just a half step away from the “open G,” then a full step to the B-Flat with the second finger, another full step to the C with the third finger, then a half step to the D Flat with the fourth finger, then cross over to the D string and do the same thing beginning with the first singer a half step up from the open D string without playing the open D itself!

Our friend Don Martin of Raleigh, a former clarinetist with the North Carolina Symphony, likes to play a lot of songs in B-Flat in his popular music combos. The key of B-Flat has two flats–B-Fat and E-Flat. So one time when guitarist David Spencer was bantering with Don Martin after another B-Flat song call, Spencer said, “I’ll see your two flats and raise you one to E-Flat.” (The key of E-Flat includes the notes E-Flat, A-Flat and B-Flat.)

For fans of bluegrass music, you’d have to wonder if even the great Lester Flatt himself would ask his band to play a song with four flats. Someone faced with four flats would be better off just getting a whole new set of tires. But for Durham-New York singer-songwriter Jason Harrod, a song can be arranged in any suitable key, and you can take your pick of sharps and flats.

If this is “milquetoast” instrumentation, then somebody please pass the chips and dip!
As for Jason Harriod’s new CD “Highliner,” I just hope all fair-minded friends of folk-rock music in the Triangle will give it a listen regardless of whether they prefer milquetoast, bagels or sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuits to start their day.

David P. McKnight

Dave played with a group called Cleaver, Smith, Swenson, and McKnight. They have a lot of streamable and downloadable music on their website, all of which features David. It’s great stuff.

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