JJ Guy continues fiddling career while adapting to pandemic

When it comes to the fiddle, few know their way around its strings and bow better than JJ Guy.

Originally from Lintlaw north of Yorkton, and now residing in Saskatoon Guy has a long list of recordings and concerts to his name.

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And, while the COVID-19 pandemic threw some bumps in the road, Guy has kept on giving concerts, albeit online, and recording.

The new album 'Twin Fiddles' has Guy teaming with Gordon Stobbe, the two managing to get the album out through the pandemic.

So, how was it creating an album during a COVID pandemic?

Well Guy explains that the recording was actually done just before things shutdown.

"The album 'Twin Fiddles 5”'was recorded in December of 2019, pre-Covid with intentions to release in the summer of 2020, but with everything cancelled -- tours, workshops, music camps -- it made little sense to release the project then," he told Yorkton This Week.

"As fall and winter approached we included some of the fans in the project by having them participate in online polls by naming some of the unnamed tunes which was quite fun, reading peoples suggestions based on their interpretation of the melody and watching people vote on their favourite. Some great tune titles that didn’t get used might end up on the next recording."

Of course that doesn't mean COVID-19 hasn't been an impediment for Guy and his music in recent months.

"The biggest issue was definitely touring and reaching our fans," offered Guy. "So often the fiddle community events and functions are hosted at the regional level, then when the ability to reach those people at functions is taken away, it can be tricky, even in the digital age to find your fans, supporters and friends that you only see once or twice a year at a particular event.

"With Covid the inability to gather people together for concerts, workshops and gatherings strips away a huge source of income for any musician."

So Guy adapted when it came to the latest recording.

"We tried to include the fans in the recordings by having them sample some of the music off the upcoming album on our website, twinfiddles.ca and have them come up with title suggestions and vote on these names," he reiterated.

"We pushed back the release several times, in the hopes that we could eventual get out and make music live again, but people kept asking when is the new album going to be available so we decided to release the CD for 2021. New year -- new Music."

For Guy it was comfortable working with Stobbe, a regular collaborator on CDs.

"This is the fifth collaboration with Gordon Stobbe, who is one of my best friends, mentors and touring partner," said Guy. "I feel that we both bring something interesting and unique to the writing process."

Guy said it helps to have a sounding board he trusts.

"The hardest thing for myself sometimes is distinguishing a good musical idea from a bad one, because its easy to get attached to an idea because it’s your own creation and that’s where I think co-writing with someone else allows that person to give you perspective and look at things from a different angle," he said.

"You also need to allow yourself to be open to critic or tweaking of something you have presented, but in doing so, creates a better product I think."

The relationship, as good as it is, is also a long-distance one.

"With Gordon living in Nova Scotia, it has been almost impossible for us to get together," said Guy. "We have done some online workshops for other players, and we're able to do a series of small social distanced workshops in a few locations on Vancouver Island this past summer.

"In a normal year, we would be together on the road anywhere between seven-and-eight months of the year.

"We talk on the phone often and still bounce creative ideas off each other, along with making tentative plans for a post-COVID world but everything is wait and see for now." All the songs on Twin Fiddles 5 are original compositions, just like the past Twin Fiddles releases.

"The tunes on album, I feel have a very melodic feel to them, and a wide range of stylistic approaches," said Guy. "The disk approaches from a very Canadian-traditional fiddle style but also tips its hat to musical influences outside of that genre as well. It travels from jigs and reels to blues, salsa and spots in-between.

"A musical fiddle potpourri influenced by the people, places and experiences we’ve encountered together."

Guy has also been busy jamming through the pandemic, taking his music online.

"After COVID shut everything down in March, Barbara Lehtonen from Port Alberni BC, and Cathy Sproule from Saskatoon -- who plays piano on the Jamming with JJ stream -- suggested doing an online jam session for other players to play along with. I think there might have been a few other people who had done them in other international fiddle circles but not with the traditional Canadian fiddle melodies.

"With all that being said I was still very skeptical that this kind of format could even work, but Cathy coaxed me to give it a try and I couldn’t believe the response! I guess other fiddlers, guitar and piano players were missing playing their instrument and doing something at the same time as their other musical friends as well."

Like any good jam, it's a setting for musicians to play together.

"Each Jamming with JJ session starts with myself on the fiddle and Cathy on the Piano," said Guy. "We proceed by playing 10 tune set list of melodies that I have posted about five days before so people can get ready and prep.

"We proceed by playing the tunes at a bit of a relaxed pace so people can play along at home, not too fast but not too slow either. Cathy has her laptop on her piano stand so she can read out comments hello’s and requests from people playing and watching along with us.

"I really couldn’t do the Jam session without Cathy. It would be almost impossible for me to do the live interaction and would not be nearly as much fun."

And the jams have continued, which Guy admits he does find somewhat surprising.

"Totally," he said. "We are coming up on week 44 of the Jams, and people are always telling me, you have to keep going, stating that it’s the happy moment of their entire week.

"I also admit it’s a very happy moment for me as well seeing the comments and messages from people I haven’t been able to see the last year and their ongoing support.

"We have about 150 people joining us live with around 2800 views every week. It’s such a great feeling.

"Once we hit week 52, that will signify a whole year. We will definitely have to think of something extra special for that."

So who are the people in the enthusiastic audience?

"The biggest bulk of the audience are players from different fiddle clubs across Canada who have lost their ability to get together and play music," said Guy. "It’s been an interesting way for people from different clubs and different regions to connect with each other, not knowing before the other existed before. Jamming with JJ is a live video stream every Sunday at 4 pm so as more players started joining in and enjoying the experience we’ve added regulars from several parts of the United States, England, Scotland, Australia and every province and territory in Canada.

"We talk a bit about the history of some of the music we play, while people online contribute what they know about that tune as well.

"I was and still am a bit surprised every week at the far reaches that the jam has had and how it has connected us. In some ways, it’s made our world smaller. The greatest thing I think with the comments and messaging we receive is how positive everyone is. Everyone is there to be happy."

So might there be the potential to collaborate on an album with some of the new jam friends?

"The joke going around is that once the pandemic is over is, how much fun it would be to have one huge Jamming with JJ in the flesh," said Guy. "While it might be impossible to get everyone together in one location due to the far reaches of the Jam, I dream that it might be fun someday to have a Jamming with JJ tour! You never know."

Guy also continues with online workshops too.

People can check out the Jamming with JJ and Twin Fiddles 5 at jjguy.ca

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