What The Reviewers Say

VRCD 341 JOE PANCERZEWSKI: LEGENDARY NORTHWEST FIDDLER

Without question Joe Pancerzewski is one of the most critically acclaimed fiddlers of the latter half of the Twentieth Century. He was born in 1905. His family homesteaded near White Earth, North Dakota in 1909. As a boy he learned to play from his neighbors, especially the four brothers in the Nelson family. As Joe put it, "that area was plastered with good fiddlers." When he was a teenager he rode horseback for miles to play for local old time dances. In 1927 he went to work for the railroad, which drastically cut into his fiddling, and when he was promoted to engineer in 1939 he put his fiddle away in a trunk. When he retired from the railroad in 1970, he dug out his fiddle and went to the State Fiddle Contest sponsored by the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association. Within a year he became virtually unbeatable in local fiddle contests and in the Senior division of national contests. Among his contest victories were the National Senior Division at Weiser, Idaho, the Washington State championship, and the Western Canadian championship.

During his long musical career, Joe absorbed tunes and techniques from every fiddler and violinist he heard, drawing from such varied styles as traditional North Dakota dance tunes, Western Canada, early jazz, classical, bluegrass, and Texas contest fiddling. Even so, he retained basically a dance-oriented Canadian style. As you will hear on this CD, he emphasized the importance of timing and giving every note its full value. He was also a master of expression, and said that a waltz should be played as if it were a love song or to tell a story.

This CD is released in answer to numerous requests that Joe Pancerzewski's recordings be made available in this format. Fiddle fans, here's your chance to get over sixty-six (yes, sixty-six!) minutes of great fiddling on a single CD. The 36 selections featured here were carefully selected from his previous Voyager LP releases. They have been carefully digitally remastered from the original analog masters to preserve the original recording quality. In short, you are in for a rare treat here. We would put this release in a "best of the year" category; it's that good. If this CD is not in your collection, then you are missing the clean crisp fiddling of one of the true masters of the craft! Without question, this collection comes with our HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

If you are on the internet, we encourage you to take a look at the Voyager Recordings website. In addition to listing the cassettes and CDs that are available, you will find several great music books to choose from ... [including] "Pleasures of Home: Rare Fiddle Tunes 1882-1939" -- the latter book features tunes compiled by Joe Pancerzewski! In addition, there is a handy order form you can print off. An impressive operation by a strong independent company that deserves our continued support. (Devil's Box)

*****

Native North Dakotan, and Northwesterner by choice, Joe P. (1905-1991) graced concert, contest, and dance states in our area enough to have a solid influence on repertoire and style here. The Voyager folks have selected 3 dozen fiddle tunes from several of Joe's Lp's/cassettes and have given us 67 memorable minutes of this delightful Canadian-stylist. Not only does Joe pull out myriad rare Depression-era (and earlier) fiddle favorites, but this disc includes 11 of his tasty originals, including several beautiful waltzes. And to show that he could cut up a dance floor, he tears into one of the best dance tunes I've heard, "St. Adele's Reel," with a potent backup band. (Victory Review)

*****

Joe Pancerzewski was an influence on traditional fiddling in the Northwest for many years. Fourteen of the tunes here are waltzes, played with great expression and feeling. Pancerzewski's playing is expressive and rustic with a down-home flavor. This recording gives a good sampling of this "legendary northwest fiddler's" legacy to traditional fiddling. (Fiddler Magazine)

*****

The migration patterns that populated the U.S. Pacific Northwest resulted in a mixture of musical styles and influences unlike any other part of the country, especially when it comes to the region's fiddle and dance music. Musicians from Canada, Scandinavia, Texas, Mexico, the Plains states and elsewhere came together, learned and borrowed from each other and produced a musical tradition marked by its diversity.

One of the most influential of the "first generation" fiddlers was Joe Pancerzewski, who was born in 1905 to North Dakota homesteaders. He continued to inspire and influence a new generation of musicians until his death in December 1991.

The 36 tunes in "Legendary Northwest Fiddler" were recorded between 1972 and 1980, and are drawn from three earlier Voyager LP releases: "The Fiddling Engineer" (#306), "Hi-Ball Fiddling" (#315) and "The Fiddling Moods of Joe Pancerzewski" (#327). This collection represents the first availability of his music in CD format. The tunes themselves are an assortment of jigs, reels, hoedowns, hornpipes and more, but he shows a special fondness and touch for waltzes, which make up nearly half the tunes. Those whose library of fiddle tunes comes mostly from Southern and Appalachian traditions will likely find those played here to be totally unfamiliar. Although he drew his music from many influences, Pancerzewski played with a distinctive drive and style that makes "Legendary Northwest Fiddler" an entertaining hour or so of lively fiddle music. (Sing Out)

*****

This compilation, with its generous program of 36 traditional and original fiddle tunes, is the ultimate "best of" package.

Pancerzewski's fiddling is vibrant and expressive. His waltz renditions imply a smooth, robust tone and rich vibrato, and the jigs, reels, and hornpipes display the trills and grace notes that typify Canadian fiddling. To Pancerzewski, timing and expression were matters of principle.

The recordings, in true Voyager fashion, capture all the resonance of the acoustic instruments in a fascinating variety of stereo mixes. At center stage, of course, is Joe Pancerzewski's dynamic fiddle. (Heritage Music Review)

*****

Listening to this CD provided me with my first glimpse into the warm and soulful fiddling of the late Joe Pancerzewski. I had heard his name and had seen his records advertised and reviewed for years, but never had actually heard his playing. That was my loss, as I find Pancerzewski to be one of the more expressive old-time fiddlers I've heard in quite a while even though his playing is quite far removed in style and by geography from much of what a lot of us think of as "old-time music."

Pancerzewski was born in 1905 in North Dakota. Apparently the area was thick with fiddlers who played square dance tunes, waltzes, polkas, and schottisches, and young Joe absorbed all he could from them. When he was a teenager, Joe moved to Western Canada where he began playing in a more Canadian style. He also joined a touring band that played popular dance music of the day and finally settled in Bellingham, Washington. If you throw in a touch of contest fiddling, a bit of bluegrass, and mix it all up, then you'll get an idea of what Joe Pancerzewski's fiddling is all about.

This CD is a compilation of material drawn from three of Joe's records which were issued on Voyager prior to his death in 1991. There is no shortage of tunes here. The program is divided up almost evenly between waltzes and hoedowns with an occasional jig or polka thrown in, adding to the variety. Although Joe draws heavily on the Western Canadian fiddle tradition for material, he also was the composer of many a fine tune, several of which are included here. Whatever the source, the music seems to be geared toward dancing - the hoedowns not too fast nor the waltzes too slow, highly melodic but with an emphasis on good rhythm. Throughout, Joe's bowing is steady and driving, yet delicate. His use of vibrato adds a touch of elegance here and there. The accompanists vary from cut to cut, but the instrumentation consists primarily of piano and guitar with an occasional bluegrass banjo, mandolin, and bass thrown in for good measure. Highly recommended. (The Old Time Herald)

*****

Voyager has recently rereleased a sizeable number of tunes by this truly remarkable fiddler on cassette and CD. Several of Joe Pancerzewski's fine tunes are included in the fine Voyager books, "Brand New Old Time Fiddle Tunes." Vivian and Phil Williams of Voyager recordings are to be commended for their continuing efforts to bring us these outstanding recordings and music books.

Since the first time we heard this truly great player, Joe Pancerzewski has been one of our very favorite fiddlers. I feel that everything he recorded was excellent, but the beautiful waltzes, that he seemed to have an endless supply of, are our special favorites. Ozark Moon Waltz is a favorite among these favorites. (Devil's Box)

*****

There is a healthy portion of pioneer Saskatchewan and North Dakota to be heard on this much-heralded CD, released by Seattle-based Voyager Recordings in 1996. Fiddler Joe Pancerzewski (1905-1991) grew up in North Dakota, but during the formative years of 1921-24 he played in Frances Kelly's dance band, based in Saskatchewan. Even though Joe moved around a lot over the years, learning a number of different fiddle styles, it was Canadian old time fiddling that remained closest to his heart. This recording reflects that first love.

There are 36 tunes on the recording, including ones by Andy De Jarlis, Johnny Mooring and Gerald Bailey. Other Canadian influences include tunes learned from fiddlers Ned Landry and Ed Gyurki. A number of other tunes were learned at fiddle contests in Saskatchewan and B.C. "Cabri Waltz," named after the small town in southern Saskatchewan, was first heard by Joe when he was 8 years old.

One of the tunes is "Alfie's Hornpipe," originally called "Allen's Reel," written by Web Acheson of Ontario. Alfie Myhre of Edmonton played this tune in the 1960 Shelburne fiddle contest, and someone, possibly Joe, heard it there and started playing it at fiddle contests as "Alfie's Reel" and "Alfie's Hornpipe." Today it is to be found in a number of tune books, including a contest book by Mark O'Connor and Benny Thomasson, where it is called "Alfie Myhre's Hornpipe."

There are five waltzes, a clog and a polka written by Joe on this CD. "Contessa Waltz" is a good contest tune; Alfie Myhre once played it at a fiddle contest in Calgary. "Barbara's Waltz" was written "as a gesture of friendship" to Barbara Lamb. Barbara was a student of Voyager Records' Vivian Williams. While she was Vivian's student, Barbara briefly taught Mark O'Connor. She is currently the fiddler for Ranch Romance and also played a stint with Asleep at the Wheel.

The liner notes include a brief biography. Phil and Vivian Williams write glowingly of Joe Pancerzewski as a friend and as a musical mentor. There must have been something quite remarkable about those pioneer days in Saskatchewan that encouraged Joe to maintain this particular musical style with such heart and loyalty. As much as there is a sound of pioneer days on the CD, there is also a sense of deeply-rooted friendship and community spirit. (Canadian Folk Music Bulletin)

*****

Voyager Recordings, founded by Phil and Vivian Williams in 1967, has been "an independent recording and publishing company that features the best in old time music, primarily fiddle music, from the Pacific Northwest and throughout North America" (from Voyager website). They took their recording equipment into the field and recorded their music at jam sessions and fiddle contests, resulting in recordings of some of the better, more authentic fiddling this reviewer has stumbled upon in the last few years.

The Pacific Northwest fiddle tradition comes from the dance fiddle brought to the area with the covered wagon. The area is a jumble of styles, from Irish and Scottish influences to Scandinavian roots, with not a great deal of mixing.

Joe Pancerzewski seems to have been the "old man" of Northwest fiddling. Born in 1905, he learned to play at an early age, but stopped when he became a railroad engineer in 1939. It was only after he retired in 1970 that he started playing once again and began winning local fiddle contests. "During his long career, Joe absorbed tunes and techniques from every fiddler and violinist he heard, drawing from such varied styles as traditional North Dakota dance tunes, Western Canada, early jazz, classical, bluegrass, and Texas contest fiddling." Legendary Northwest Fiddler was assembled from three previous recordings by Joe and is full of fire, with Joe tearing into such tunes as "Turkey in the Cottonwoods" and "Tulsa." He is joined here by Vivian and Phil Williams, and Dick Marvin on guitar. His style is alternately energetic and lyrical, with a tasteful use of ornamentation, and this compilation shows the various sides of Joe's artistry. (Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Bulletin)

*****

Say the word "fiddle" and the Pacific Northwest will not be the first region that jumps to most peoples' minds. But there is a rich and longstanding tradition of fiddle music in Western Canada and the American Northwest, and that tradition has probably had no finer exponent that the late Joe Pancerzewski. Then he died in 1991, he left behind a recorded legacy that existed primarily on vinyl, and is thus mostly out of print. This collection brings together selected tracks from three of his recordings from the 1970s and 1980s. True to the Northwest tradition, a preponderance of the tunes are waltzes, all played with Pancerzewski's trademark clarity of style and richness of tone. On tunes like "Butterfly Waltz" and "Fairy Waltz" you can hear traces of a cowboy influence, while "Carrick Jig" is delivered in a heavily Cape Breton-flavored Irish style. Pancerzewski's original tunes are some of the finest on the album - "Quilting Bee Jig" written in honor of fellow Northwest Fiddler Vivian Williams is a lovely composition, as is "Twinkletoe Polka," a tune somewhat reminiscent of "Buffalo Gals." Overall, this generous collection is a delightful look at an unsung hero of an unjustly neglected tradition in American music. (All-Music Guide)

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