Ryan Cavanaugh & No Man's Land/Hazel Johnson Band (#1609)

Two distinctive groups, bluegrass/jazz players Ryan Cavanaugh & No Man's Land and the old-time-music group Hazel Johnson Band, perform at the 3rd annual International Newgrass Festival in 2011. A KET production.


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Bluegrass meets jazz in the sound of Ryan Cavanaugh & No Man's Land. It's all inspired by Cavanaugh's 20-year career playing five-string banjo and his lifelong love of jazz. "I've always loved American bluegrass because it's my roots," he says, "but I also love the history of jazz because it involves the banjo."

Cavanaugh grew up in various parts of the United States, but he says his time in North Carolina helped steep him in banjo tradition. "I was lucky enough to have moved there early in my banjo playing years to witness and learn from some old local masters. Another strong influence was familial. Cavanaugh's father, Larry, also played banjo. And his great uncle Pat O'Gorman, who came from Ireland in the early 1900s, inspired the family with traditional Irish dance tunes played on a Vega five-string banjo.

Like many artists, Ryan is mostly self-taught but, along with his father, he also mentions Steve Cashell, a local music teacher in Billings, MT, as his early teachers. He was a champion of Merlefest, Rockygrass, and Renofest banjo contests in his early 20s, going on to perform and record with Bill Evans, Sam Bush, Victor Wooten, Bela Fleck, Robben Ford, and many others.

No Man's Land was formed in late 2009, part of Cavanaugh's vision of bringing the banjo back to jazz music. "While trying to fuse bluegrass and jazz in Bill Evans' soulgrass group and trying to develop new styles on the banjo I felt it was time to start exploring some of my own music with the same instrumentation."

Mandolin and guitar player Hazel Johnson was born in England and grew up in Kenya. While in England, she managed the Cambridge Folk Music Festival, one of the world's longest running folk festivals. Johnson came to the United States in 1969, eventually becoming friends with folk icon Norman Blake. She met the members of Newgrass Revival and is the widow of Newgrass' original banjo player Courtney Johnson.

As a performer in her own right, Hazel Johnson's sound brings her own voice to her diverse influences of folk, traditional bluegrass, and contemporary old-time music.