In Conversation With . . . Cynthia Sayer, Part II

Cynthia Sayer is a New York-based jazz banjo phenomenon whose latest album, Attractions, on Plunk Records, was recently reviewed in The Voice.

She recently took the time to talk with Wanda Waterman St. Louis about her influences, music as a career, and teaching via Skype.


I was deeply influenced by several artists. First and foremost was the historic jazz banjoist Elmer Snowden. When I heard his album Harlem Banjo! I was absolutely dumbfounded. He could swing like crazy, and played with such musical integrity! There was no hint of any of the corniness that other players seemed to assume with a banjo.

That recording is what made me decide to try to play jazz banjo. It showed me that the instrument’s natural abilities for driving rhythm and articulating single string work were great jazz tools. I also was heavily influenced, like countless others, by the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, as well as by the great Louis Armstrong. The specific instrument doesn’t matter at all; It’s about the ideas, the approach.

My Life in Music

Working as a musician has given me the opportunity to live the kind of life I dreamed of when I was a kid. Of course I didn’t know then what the day-to-day realities would entail. The creative and business challenges range from exhilarating to unforgiving. I am amazed and delighted that I have been able to do it for so long, and I hope it will never end.

I have only recently come to appreciate the special joys of teaching. I used to limit the number of students I would take, and considered it better to do it for real than to teach. Now I get it about teaching, and for the past few years it has become a priority equal to performing. I try to maintain a good balance between the two.

It helps that Skype is now popular, since that has opened up a whole new avenue of teaching online. Now I can teach someone no matter where they live. I recently had some of my students come and sit in on one of my gigs. A couple of them had never played in public before. They did great, and I was proud!

My eyes have been opened to the whole idea of not only practising an art, but of helping to pass it on so that others can continue it in their own way.

On Attractions

Attractions was heavily reviewed after its release, and I was thrilled by the raves. But the music business is impossible to predict; in spite of the press, sales were okay but not great. The usual road for a new CD is for it to get reviews and attract most of its sales within six months to a year of its release, and after that it tends to fade away.

But Attractions was very unusual in that it sustained some press interest after that initial release period. My sales have actually risen slowly and steadily over time. I am guessing this has been due to a more organic response, i.e., word of mouth as opposed to press-driven sales.

The Company You Keep

Most of my friends, and also certainly my partner BG, can be described as smart, accomplished, creative, well travelled, fun, and liberal. But I also enjoy odd, interesting characters.

Personal Convictions

I believe in personal responsibility, tolerance, and equality. And I believe in the inspiration, beauty, and power of nature and art.

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