Steve Martin Jams at Berklee

Darry Madden
May 31, 2012
Musician and comedian Steve Martin at Berklee.
Martin talks technique with student Jordan Alleman. Visiting professor Lauck Benson looks on.
Martin plays with Lukas Pool '12.
From right to left: Nicky Sanders '02, Matt Glaser, President Roger H. Brown, and Martin.
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson

Banjo player and comedian Steve Martin dropped by Berklee on Wednesday for a low-key jam session with a few students and faculty.

Crammed into a tiny office, among the bluegrass, folk, and roots music CDs, Martin listened to students Gabe Hirshfeld and Jordan Alleman and alumnus Lukas Pool '12 play banjo. "That's so beautiful," Martin told them, of their music. "So nice and tasty."

Pool, the 2011 national Old-Time Banjo Champion, loaned Martin his instrument, and he joined in on a jam of Doc Watson's "Deep River Blues" in honor of the late musician.

Martin, who was in town for a show with the Boston Pops, plays with a band called the Steep Canyon Rangers, whose fiddler, Nicky Sanders, graduated from Berklee in 2002. Sanders joined the jam yesterday as well.

Martin was contemplative when it came to the music he was playing and hearing, but his playfulness shone through when he allowed Pool to teach him a "banjo handshake," a greeting that involves hands in a claw shape and a hammering gesture. Of course, this is a reference to the clawhammer banjo-playing technique.

Matt Glaser is the director of the American Roots Music Program at Berklee, and he was thrilled to have Martin stop by. "Not only is he an excellent player himself, but he is the world's preeminient banjo philanthropist. It was a great honor to have him here."

"This sounds great, you guys," Martin told the students. "I'm impressed ... and depressed," he said with a laugh.