Jeff Little Trio with Wayne Henderson come to York, PA on November 10th

The music of the Jeff Little Trio is an exception to the accepted rule that the piano does not have a prominent role in Appalachian or Americana music.  Little and his trio, with special guest Wayne Henderson, make the case for the role of the piano in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert appearance on Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George Street, York.

Both Little and Henderson have enjoyed a close relationship with Doc Watson, often accompanying him on stage. Along with Watson, they make up the collection of exceptional musicians from the region around Boone, North Carolina that have helped to define the very distinctive traditional sound there.

Wayne Henderson will also give a short talk on guitar building from 6:30 pm-7:15 pm. In recognition of his skills as a luthier, Henderson was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship, an honor conferred on him by the President of the United States.

Henderson has built guitars for Tommy Emmanuel, Doc Watson, Peter Rowan Gillian Welch, and Eric Clapton.

For tickets visit:

We had a chance to speak to Jeff Little about his music, his relationship with Doc Watson and Wayne Henderson, and how he is passing on his knowledge of the music industry to young students.



FOLKMAMA: Can you describe the style music that you play?


LITTLE: I’m originally from Boone, North Carolina and even though I’m a piano player, I was very influenced by acoustic music from that area. It’s traditional acoustic music that had been played in the area for many years by Doc Watson and lots of other musicians. Doc always used to call it ‘tradition plus.’ It’s the traditional music from that area mixed in with whatever musicians feel like throwing in. So you’ll hear all sorts of styles, like old-time fiddle tunes, traditional blues, country classics, early jazz, gospels, and rags.

My father was a musician, and in Boone, he had the Little’s Music Store. So at a very young age I learned to pick out tunes and play by ear. There were also some great players that would come to the store, and once again, Doc was a big influence. When I was 7 or 8 years old, he’d come in and played with some other great musicians.

FOLKMAMA: People certainly associate Doc Watson with the region that you grew up in. Tell me a little bit more about your relationship with him?

LITTLE: Doc was a friend of my family, and ever since I was a kid, we played shows together. Throughout the years, we played together, and even when I was in Nashville, I’d come back to play with him. Of course, once the Merlefest Festival started, we played together there also. So playing with him was a continuous thing since I was very young.


FOLKMAMA: We’re very fortunate in York to be able to hear Wayne Henderson play with your trio. He’s such a fantastic flat picker! And of course he’s also a famous luthier. Tell me about your relationship with him.

LITTLE: I’ve known Wayne for many years, and before we each had our own groups, we used to play together a lot as a duo, including on some tours overseas. But even though we still jam together now and then, it’s very rare for him to play with the Jeff Little Trio. I think this is only about the second or third time.

FOLKMAMA: So how will the evening go? Will you take turns doing sets, or all play together?

LITTLE: We’ll start with a short set with the Jeff Little Trio. That will give us a chance to be able to play some of our jazz numbers. Then we’ll do a big fanfare and invite him to the stage, and he’ll play the rest of the evening with us!

FOLKMAMA: So tell me a little bit about the Jeff Little Trio.

LITTLE: So we have Steve Lewis on banjo and Josh Scot on upright bass. They are actually father and son. Josh is a fine bass player and Steve has won many championships for his guitar and banjo playing.

You know the big, prestigious festival that determines nation champion is the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas and he won there and then had to wait for five years before he tried again. He went back after five years and won again! Then he went back and won again on flat-pick guitar.

He’s won championships also at Merlefest, Galax’s Old Fiddlers’ Convention, and the Wayne C. Henderson Guitar Competition.


FOLKMAMA: I was looking at your biography and noticed that you have represented the United States abroad on State Department-sponsored tours. Where did you and go and what was that like?

LITTLE: Yes, I was really lucky to be able to do some touring abroad. Wayne went with me too. On those tours, we went to Sri Lanka, Oman, Tanzania, and France. And everywhere we went everyone was really welcoming.

All sorts of bands go on these State Department-sponsored tours, sometimes they are bands that bring American traditions to the world, and sometimes they are just good bands that can play any style really. Lots of jazz musicians have gone through the years like Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Dave Brubeck.

FOLKMAMA: And I see that you have played at a lot of the National Folk Festivals (a ‘traveling’ folk festival that features styles of traditional music found in the US). We’re very fortunate to have the National Folk Festival near us over the next couple of years in Salisbury, Maryland. ( I went this year and heard such an amazing array of music—Klezmer, old-time, reggae, old-time, even a gospel bass ‘shout band’!

What was it like for you being part of the Nationals?

LITTLE: It was really fantastic!  I was part of a group of pianists that the National Council of the Traditional Arts (the festival organizers) called ‘American Piano Masters’. So there were New Orleans Jazz players and rag-time players, and other genres too. We all got a chance to play on our own and then we came together and had a chance to show the audience the similarities in our styles. That’s what the Nationals really do so well. Get really good musicians together so that we can all learn about such a wide variety of styles.

FOLKMAMA: So I understand that even though your trio plays over 40 dates year, that you have a day job. What is it that you do?

LITTLE: For a while I’ve been teaching at Catawba College in Salisbury, NC. The college has a Bachelors Degree in Music with concentrations in Popular Music and Music Business.  I’m a faculty member and Artist in Residence there. I work with kids that love music and are looking at it as a possible career. I’ve been in the music industry all my life, and now it’s exciting that I am able  to see students graduate in a field that they love.

The students are encouraged to try playing different kinds of music and we have the Catawba Roots ensemble that performs a couple of times a year. This gives me a good chance to share the regional music that I love with these kids.


Interview with Celtic Cello Innovator Natalie Haas: “It’s Meant to be Shared.”

Acclaimed Scottish Fiddle and Cello duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas will perform on Saturday October 27th at 7:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York (925 S. George St., York, PA 17403) in a concert sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.   More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website HERE. Tickets are $24 General Admission, $21 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online HERE.




Earlier this month, Natalie Haas chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter about the latest Fraser/Haas record entitled “Ports of Call,” the beginnings of her musical collaboration with Alasdair Fraser and development of her iconic accompaniment style on the cello, as well as growing up going to fiddle camps with her equally noteworthy sister, Bluegrass/Old Time fiddler Brittany Haas.


Peter: I feel like in 2018 I can’t pick up a folk album or a folk publication without hearing either about you or your sister Brittany.  Both of you are at the forefront of playing right now, so I wanted to know a little bit about what was in the water when you two were growing up? What was the role of folk music when you guys were kids? It’s absolutely crazy how you two are doing.

Natalie: [Laughs] Yeah! We were really lucky to have (when we were growing up) the world of fiddle camps, and that was kind of our entry point for both me and Brittany.  And so thanks to Alasdair for having created that scene near where we both grew up!  That was where I discovered Scottish music for the first time, and that became my kind of life calling, and the same thing for Brittany with Old Time music.  [We] discovered this whole community as well as the music itself, and really fell in love with that and [it] had a huge life changing effect on both of us.  So maybe there was something in the water, I don’t know!  Right around Santa Cruz, California is where the camp is, and that’s about an hour from where Brittany and I grew up and just kind of happened into it by accident really; both of us coming from the classical Suzuki method and then Brittany’s violin teacher introduced us to Alasdair’s Scottish fiddle school and we both went there when we were very young our first time (I was 11 and she was 8) and then we’ve been every year since, and it’s had a huge impact on both of us!

Peter: That’s amazing.  Were your parents into fiddle music at all? They introduced you to classical music but were they a part of introducing you to this music?

Natalie: Only in taking us to fiddle camp! Yeah it was classical music we started with, only because our parents didn’t know there was anything else out there until we heard about this camp.  So we both did Suzuki for a few years and Brittany started Bluegrass fiddle lessons actually cause she was kind of getting bored, and my mom (she’s just a real go getter) she asked at the local guitar store in Palo Alto, and that’s where Brittany met her first fiddle teacher.




Peter: That’s awesome! How did you and Alasdair first start playing together as a duo? How did that come together?

Natalie: It was through the camp.  I went for a couple years just as a student, and it’s a big camp, so I didn’t meet him right away.  I was young and a few years after I had been going for a little while I had gotten a little bit better at my instrument, and I was sitting in a Baroque workshop (we had a special guest there who’s a great Baroque violinist from England) and Alasdair was sitting next to me in class and heard me play and pulled me aside after the classes and asked me if I wanted to try some stuff together.  He had been looking for a cellist to kind of help him realize this dream of kind of getting the cello back into Scottish music, because it’s one of the few kind of folk traditions that has a really well documented history of cello being a big part of it. So we kind of went off together under a redwood tree and started reading some of these old bass lines out of these 18th century Scottish fiddle collections together, and that was kind of the jumping off point for seeing where the cello had been and then taking it from there and deciding what we could then do with it.

Peter: You guys have been playing together for so long, and it’s so cool to see any band regardless of genre be able to hold it together and continue to make increasingly wonderful music for as long as you guys have.  You obviously have such great musical chemistry that’s so evident from your recordings and seeing you guys live, did you recognize when you first started that there was something really, really good with the two of you playing together?

Natalie: I don’t think I did, because I was only 15 at the time! I didn’t really have a sense of that. I was kind of in a perpetual sense of bewilderment and awe at that stage. It was something that developed, you know?  I was still a student when we started playing together, and I had a lot to learn still.  It was a really cool kind of journey together of developing this thing that hadn’t been done yet. I mean it had been done hundreds of years ago but hadn’t been done in today.  So no, I don’t think I was aware, but I was always very grateful to be asked to do that, and really learned so much in the process, and it’s still kind of a learning journey! There’re limitations with only two instruments, but it’s also very freeing in a way because I have all this open space available, and how to fill it is always an open question.  So it’s really exciting to get to have that freedom together.

Peter: Yeah!  How does it feel that you two are still playing together 18 years and 5 albums later?  Does it feel crazy that it’s been that long?

Natalie: Yes and no. It feels totally natural.  I think when you’re choosing a band a lot of it is musical, but a lot of it is personal as well. We’ve always just gotten on really well. So yeah often times when you’re choosing bandmates, you’re choosing people over musicians.  I think that’s really helped; that we’re such great pals at this stage.  Of course, it’s not 100% of the time perfect, but he’s one of my oldest friends, and I really appreciate that we have that bond. And yeah, it’s still a joy to make music together after all this time.

Peter: Going back to the two of you working together and Alasdair having this dream of bringing back the cello to traditional Scottish music.  At least to my research (you can correct me if I’m wrong on this) when we’re going back to the early days of cello with fiddle tunes, we’re looking at these very simple bass lines, almost a drone essentially, and taking that to where you’ve brought it which is just absolutely amazing, I feel like you’ve created such an iconic sound!  I hear other cellists copying it, and I’ll even hear guitarists trying to emulate some of the great rhythms you’ve brought to contemporary Celtic music.  What were some of the influencesor ideas that you were bringing in to try and return the cello to Celtic music?

Natalie: Yeah, well for me there were very few cellists at that time who were inspiring to me, it was pretty much Rushad Eggleston, and he hadn’t really done it in a Celtic music context so much at that stage.  He was kind of in the process of developing this set of rhythmic tools for the cello, so I was very influenced by him, although we sound completely different in what we do. Also Darol Anger, he kind of happened into the camp.  Using these bowed string instruments more as rhythmic tools and part of the rhythm section, that idea is something that came from Darol, but hadn’t really been applied to Celtic music before me I guess.

So those two, and then also just being around fiddle players in the camp setting, because there are so many fiddles, often times you would have a melody player, but I would hear the one who wasn’t playing the melody (the teachers or the older, more advanced players that I looked up to) and decide to try and copy what they were doing.  Same thing with sitting in a session and hearing piano and guitar.  Funny that you say that there are guitar players copying me, cause I was originally just copying them! People like John Doyle, and trying to figure out how to treat the cello like that: as a rhythmic, kind of driving force behind the melody. Yeah so listening to other instruments and figuring out how to make that work on the cello as well.

Peter: I just find this so fascinating you were in these uncharted waters…How long do you think it took for what you were doing, your style, to kind of come together?

Natalie: Definitely a few years! That’s why I think we didn’t record our first album until 5 years-6 years into the playing together. And I think our sound has changed a lot since then too.  I was still kind of figuring stuff out for a long time before we recorded “Fire & Grace” and you know that album has a lot of raw energy on it, but then I think our arrangement sensibilities got a lot more sophisticated from that point on, and that’s something that’s still evolving.  And writing our own tunes and all that didn’t start right away, I mean for me anyway.  So yeah, it’s kind of an ever-ongoing process!


Peter: For Sure.  So, speaking of recording, and how things have changed, on the new record “Ports of Call” from last year, you guys talk about going outside of Scotland.  You have some original tunes on the album, as well as tunes from Scandinavia, Spain, and France.  Did the concept come first, or did you find yourselves gravitating to tunes outside your normal stomping grounds? 

Natalie:  Yeah. That’s a good question.  No, I think the name came later (as they often do in this) but we started to see a picture forming of the tunes that we had chosen.  It’s about half and half, original tunes vs tunes from other countries,  and I think that is the natural result of the kind of traveling that we are doing and having all these fiddle camps in different parts of the world, getting exposed to other kinds of music where the fiddle is also very prominent and having these wonderful tune exchanges with people at our camps, because Alasdair’s camp model has always been to kind of have this three pronged approach, of three different fiddle cultures coming together, and seeing what happens over the course of the week.

Peter: Oh, that’s really neat.

Natalie: So yeah, it’s always sort of this cultural melting pot!  There’s a lot of tune sharing that goes on back and forth, and so we really just kind of picked tunes that we love from these other cultures.  We’re not trying to say that we’re authentic exponents of these traditions, but we’re trying to give them our full respect and best treatment in our own voice, which might be tainted by Scottish music a little bit! [Laughs].

Peter: Obviously in addition for both you and Alasdair it’s not just about performance.  The fiddle camps are such a huge part of what you do, and you have the associate professorship at Berklee, why is education something that is so important to you?

Natalie: Well I think that’s part of the way that folk music works.  It’s meant to be shared and not necessarily by really advanced players.  A lot of our audiences are amateur musicians actually, and we love to share what we do.  We do workshops too, all over the place, and part of the tradition is bringing people into it and getting people excited about it.  And we love exposing people who haven’t heard this music before.  A lot of people coming from the classical world (like I was when I was younger) just haven’t been exposed to other styles of music, and seeing the joy on their faces is just really gratifying.  And having grown up in the fiddle camp world, I guess I want to share that with other people; the total life changing experience that it is.

Peter: Yeah. My brother is a classical cellist and did one of your camps this summer, he just came back raving about it! 

Natalie: Oh Amazing!

Peter: What do you think are some good rules to follow for backing up a tune? Some good ground rules for accompanists out there?

Natalie: Yeah well, I guess number one is the melody is always king, so whatever you’re doing, it’s always in support of the melody, so you are not the main focus.  That being said, I couldn’t content myself with playing these old bass lines because I would get bored!  So whatever you have to do to keep yourself interested, varying what you do constantly so you’re never getting stuck in learning a pattern and just playing that over and over.  Creating different textures I think is really important.  Especially because these tunes end up getting played lots of times, so trying to figure out different ways of making sound on your instrument that is going to be always serving the tune and serving the arrangement too, so you can be playing a tune multiple times and really guide where it is going.

Peter: So finally one more question to bring this full circle.  I recently saw a youtube video (I think you guys uploaded it this year) of you and Brittany doing a duo thing together.

Natalie: Yeah!

Peter: It was so good! I’m such a fan of both of you!

Natalie: Thank You!

Peter: It is so cool to me that you guys are both so talented in different but complimentary genres and styles!  Do you guys think there is one day a Haas Sister full album in the works?

Natalie: Yeah I really hope so! We just did this special sister tour this May of Ireland, so that video was during our rehearsal time for that, and of course we love playing together, it’s so easy! We have this twenty years of shared repertoire (through the fiddle camps again!) even though we both kind of went our separate ways in different styles of music.  I really hope so, Brittany is going through a little transition right now, she went back to school, although she’s still playing.  She has to be kind of more judicious about when she’s on the road, so if there is something that happens in the future she’s gotta be the one who gives the green light.

Peter: For sure.

Natalie: But yeah, we’ve both said that we want to do it more.

Peter: As one obsessive music fan I feel you two owe folk music.  We need that Haas Sisters album at some point!

Natalie: (Laughs) Well I certainly hope it won’t be too far in the future!

Peter: Well Natalie, thank you so much for your time and putting this together! We will catch you at the concert!  Once again thank you so much for coming back and playing for Susquehanna Folk!

Natalie: Thank you!  Yeah, looking forward to it!



Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, and DJs. He tweets peterwinter38