Jake Schepps has made a name for himself as a banjo renaissance man, an artist with not only an adroit touch on his instrument but an intrepid, imaginative vision for contemporary string band music. While his nimble touch and deep sensitivity to the five-string banjo’s idiomatic qualities are deeply rooted in traditional and progressive bluegrass styles, it’s his insatiable curiosity and open spirit that have brought him to the exciting frontier of new acoustic music.
A champion of the myriad possibilities of the string band, Jake is an ingenious arranger and performer of decidedly non-bluegrass material, a reputation that has evolved and deepened over the course of four critically-acclaimed and award-winning albums. In 2015 Jake’s Quintet released Entwined. The music on Entwined represents some of the first ever long-form works written by classical composers for the traditional 5-piece bluegrass string band, an ensemble that was minted when banjoist Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys in 1945. These pieces offer a fresh perspective on this iconic instrumental combination, and a prismatic view into four fascinating compositional worlds.
An Evening in the Village: The Music of Béla Bartók (2011) finds common ground between the piquant beauty of Bartók's take on Eastern European folk melodies and the big-sky vibrancy of new American acoustic music. These are reinterpretations by folk musicians of Bartók’s classical interpretations of folk melodies. Ten Thousand Leaves (2007), produced by Matt Flinner, features a series of jazz-inflected originals, an Astor Piazzolla tango, and a 3-movement through-composed suite entitled “In the American West.”
This exploration continues with his innovative online music subscription Round Window Radio, a music series seen through the prism of the 5-string banjo. Subscribers receive a monthly download (or stream) of an eclectic and unique music track recorded with Jake Schepps and a wide spectrum of collaborators (such as Darol Anger, Matt Flinner, Grant Gordy, Scott Nygaard, Noam Pikelny, Ross Martin, Tony Trischka, and many non-string band musicians too). These recordings cover lots of musical territory (think bluegrass, newgrass, Brazilian choro, jazz, classical, and much more), and all tracks come with sheet music, banjo tablature, and detailed liner notes.
As a bandleader, his groups the Expedition Quartet, the Jake Schepps Quintet, and now Round Window have performed around the country and abroad, playing festivals, concert halls, jazz clubs, and even an esteemed NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Jake is a skilled and conscientious educator, having taught at NimbleFingers, Berklee College of Music, British Columbia Bluegrass Workshop, University of Northern Colorado, and producing an instructional DVD Modern Banjo Ideas & Techniques. After many years of interviewing some of the world's greatest banjo players for Banjo Newsletter, and attending workshops in a spectrum of musical styles (the Banff Centre’s Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, the Centrum’s Choro Workshop, and most recently the Silk Road Ensemble’s Global Musician Workshop), this breadth of musical experiences have worked their way into Jake’s teaching curriculum and his open-minded approach to music.