Video Interview with Art Mize

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:12 - Early life / Introduction to music

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Keywords: baritone ukulele; guitar; Illinois; Laurel County; Woodford County

4:56 - Music and church / Bluegrass music interest

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Keywords: Bill Monroe; Bluegrass; Chubby Wise; Church of Christ; Kenny Baker; Vasser Clements; violin; Woodford County

9:33 - Learning to read music / Education

11:19 - Exploring the instruments / Music research

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Keywords: Bob Slone; Clarence White; Django Reinhardt; Georgia Wildcats; Grappelli; guitar kit; Hank Williams Sr. Bob Wills; Homer Ledford; Kentucky Colonels; Lawrence Welk Show; Paris, France; Skillet Lickers; St├ęphane Grappelli; Swing Jazz

19:07 - Studying at University of Kentucky

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Keywords: J.B. Miller; Philosophy; University of Kentucky

23:03 - Apprenticing with J.B. Miller

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Keywords: Gratz; J.B. Miller; Joseph Bernard Miller; Owen County; Robert Gleer; violin

37:44 - Repair and restoration work

48:02 - Value

49:36 - Finished product / Tone

54:51 - Tools and process / Technology


AF: Alright, well, let me start by saying thank you Art, for sitting down and

talking with me today.

AM: I'm delighted. Thank you.

AF: I thought we would begin with basic biographical information.

AM: Ok.

AF: So, where did you grow up at?

AM: Well, until I was 11 I lived in Laurel County, out in the country, part of

that adjacent to my grandfather's farm out East 80. And then we moved into a

house when I was in 3rd grade. Then we, dad got transferred to Northern

Illinois, I lived in Roselle, Illinois, for three years, then we moved back to

Woodford County, itching to get back to Kentucky and closer to family when I was

a freshman in high school. So, I've been here in the Bluegrass since 1978.

AF: Ok, I'm curious, when you were younger and you were bouncing around a 1:00 bit--

AM: Yeah.

AF: Were you interested in music and were you taking any music classes?

AM: No, but I grew up in a church that didn't use any instruments and this is a

bit ironic because it was all singing, but we'd have singing schools and

visiting preachers would have sort of a singing school on a Sunday and we

learned, we sang out of shape note hymn books that parted out, you know,

soprano, and alto, and tenor and bass, and, so, I learned to read solfege, you

know, from a very early age. I don't remember not knowing how to read shape notes.

AF: Yeah.

AM: It was just something we did all the time, it was just our regular religious

practice whenever we worshiped and that twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday,

so I've had a lot of practice. But my dad bought a guitar-- I think the story is

that he was buying a high chair for my older brother who was 11 months older

than me, I won't give him a year, and um, and there was a guitar hanging on the wall--

AF: Uh huh.

AM: And he 2:00said, if you'll throw the guitar in with it we'll give you your

price, so he got this guitar. There have been generations of musical aspiration

on my dad's side of the family--

AF: Uh huh.

AM: His mom always wanted to play guitar, and her dad, um, had wanted to play

fiddle and there was supposed to have been a fiddle hiding in the barn until his

dad figured it out and, uh, he was very opposed to this kind of-- always wore

black and white, was a bit puritan oriented, and you know, music was kind of dangerous--

AF: Yeah.

AM: That wild time of life. Dancing and drinking and stuff like that, it went

with the music. So, it was frowned upon, but Pa Combs was supposed to have loved

the fiddle and Ma Combs loved the banjo, and they hooked the car battery up to

the radio and listened to the Grand Ole Opry and lots of stuff, in Leslie

County. I was born in Hyden, in the old hospital up on the hill, but I 3:00 didn't

really grow up there, but--

AF: Yeah.

AM: But, my grandparents, my dad's mom lived there and had a lot of cousins, and

we were all the time driving up to touch-in and to see my great grandmother and uh--

AF: Yeah, and, was that typically on the weekend?

AM: Yes.

AF: As Appalachian migrants you go back home on the weekend, you spend the

weekend there, and then you go back--

AM: We did that all the time.

AF: Yeah.

AM: And I remember traveling the old road--

AF: Um hmm.

AM: Going to 80, all the way up to Hyden. Um, you know, you'd sit in the back of

the car, big long bench seats without seat belts.

Interruption in filming

AF: Yeah. So, your father managed to get ahold of a guitar.

AM: Yeah.

AF: And was that brought into the family and shared?

AM: Absolutely, was sand and played a home. He got me a baritone ukulele for my

6th birthday, and um, so, I started out 4:00playing kind of abbreviated guitar

chords and just watching dad or, he had a friend from work that would come over

and they would play and sing together, and I remember I thought the other guy

looked like Glen Campbell, and they did a lot of Glen Campbell material. But,

there was a barbershop down the street that was run by Martin Young, who had

been around playing quite a long time, and he moved to Laurel County from, I

think, Perry County, um, and he had a fiddle that dad bought for me, paid $50.00

for the outfit, the fiddle and bow, and the case you know when I was 10 years

old and said Art, would you like to play the fiddle? Sure, whatever--

AF & AM: Laughing

AM: But my older brother played guitar, and dad eventually got a banjo and

played some banjo tunes. So, we did a lot of playing and singing around the house.

AF: So, I'm just curious, did you ever start to incorporate that into church, 5:00 or

did that stay two very separate things?

AM: No, no, two very separate things, totally separate; yeah it was Church of Christ.

AF: Yeah, ok. I was just curious if you were playing and doing so much at home,

if that ever crossed over.

AM: You know, and it's odd because the idea that religious songs should acapella

was so heavily vested that we really didn't sing any religious songs when we

played instruments.

AF: Oh, wow--

AM: So, it was odd because the ethic for like Church of God people would be to

almost give up secular music--

AF: Right--

AM: Right, at home, and they would only do religious music. I've known a lot of

people who wouldn't do any other kind of music but religious music out of those

convictions about music.

AF: Yeah--

AM: But it was very ironic in my family because of the emphasis on not playing

instruments in church and then--

AF: Yeah, that is pretty interesting, Art. Well, so you started moving around

when you were 11, and you're going to different places, but you're still

continuing to play.

AM: Yeah and when I moved to Illinois I got into the school orchestra. There was

a lady who lived down the street in Roselle, Illinois, that gave violin lessons

and I had lessons at school and private lessons with the lady down the street,

and for two years I remember I got really choked up on a lot of violin playing.

And then, when we moved back to Woodford County in the middle of my freshman

year of high school there was no orchestra there, so I just went back to playing

you know, whatever we were playing at home. Got really interested in Bluegrass,

actually, at that point. I remember I bought my first record album from a sale

bin in Turfland Mall, and it was Bill Monroe's 16all-time greatest hits.

AF: Oh, wow--

AM: And, they were all recordings from the late, you know, 1945-1948, that

seminal period for Bluegrass music, when Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt were

still in his band, except for a few cuts with Mac Wiseman and, after Flatt and

Scruggs left-- But what was really stunning to me was to listen to Tubby Wise

whose fiddle work on that album was just really remarkable I thought. I set

about to kind of imitate, to listen to that and imitate that sound. And then I

discovered Kenny Baker, I discovered a lot of what was going on. Vasser

Clements, I kind of had dual, like a split consciousness about fiddling, there's

that Kenny Baker, very Kentucky oriented, very traditional, kind of defining

what traditional Bluegrass should sound like; and then there's this Vasser

Clements sort of jazz side, where he is just so distinctive, has so much

personality in his playing, and I thought that was fascinating. So John Hartford

fiddled kind of like that, but was also very traditional, loved old time music,

but could play on that jazzy, swingy kind of inventive side.

So, I think that wetted my appetite for playing, I've always had just a very

broad palette, for what I liked.

AF: Yeah, that seems like an interesting shift to go from being in the orchestra

and taking private lessons, probably playing more classical--

AM: Well it was all classical orchestra, yeah--

AF: And then to come back here, and then to go back to those sort of Bluegrass roots--

AM: And it was odd because my older brother was playing guitar with the family

and got more interested in classical guitar when we moved back to Kentucky--.

AF: Oh--

AM: He took classical guitar lessons through high school and got really serious,

he is a wonderful classical guitar player, but is very, very heavily vested in

the classical instrument, you know, where as I went the other direction into the

folk roots, I'll admit to ear playing.

AF: Oh, well, that's interesting how it works out within families like that--

AM: It is! But we can still get together and he'll bring a duet book with flute

parts, or violin parts, and we'll play guitar and violin I can read really well.

AF: Yeah.

AM: So, um, even though I didn't pursue it beyond that, because of all the shape

note reading as a kid, I can just, I can almost sit down with a tune book, like

if I go to a dance, and they're gonna play a tune that I've never learned,

they'll have the tune book open and I can kind of sight read the notes, but

extemporize my own version of it.

AF: Ok.

AM: So, I'm just a very adept reader, which is just a great gift to have that

from such an early age. Yeah, so I'm kind of unusual as a fiddler, to be able to

play by ear but by notes if I wanted to.

AF: Well that's what I was gonna say, yeah it is kind of unusual, and

especially, I guess that movement to Northern Illinois becomes really important

for your education.

AM: Very much so.

AF: And your ability to read, I would think, to read music, you know--

AM: I didn't notice any difference between the, this is a little off topic, but

I didn't notice any difference in the schools going in 6th grade in London,

Kentucky, to 6th grade in Illinois, but by the time we left and I came back the

slow math book and the math classes was the fast math book in Woodford County

and it was just like that across the board. They were doing, I was doing lab

work in a chemistry class where you are testing the elasticity of metals and

things like that and the only thing they could put me in, in Woodford County,

was sort of an earth sciences class where we were just talking about rocks. And

it was just such a kill down of educational quality in high school that I was

very, I'm not sure what exactly the word is, there are so, discouraged isn't

exactly it because I was enjoyed everything that I was doing, but I just thought

school really had,, was very degraded in terms of what was offered here compared

to what was offered up there. I was on a speech time and traveling to Chicago

and competing, and they didn't have any speech program then, they didn't have

any theatre in Woodford County, and the people that wanted to do theatre had to

fight for it. And we had to, we had a fight with the principal just to get

access to the cafeteria to put on a play or something. It was just a different

mindset of how the arts fit in--

AF: I think there's still some of that-- that lingers. Well, that's an

interesting observation. Well, I'm curious, so you came back from Illinois, and

you're put into a situation where the high school is very different, was it

during this time that maybe you became more interested in going beyond simply

playing and actually working on the instrument itself and doing repair and

building, or was that a little bit later on, or--

AM: The first time that I really had the inkling that I was interested in this

was when I was in college, I came to college, and my older brother had dated

Homer Ledford's daughter--

AF: Laughter

AM: And even though they continue to date, Julie and I would meet often on

campus at UK and he ended up needing a fiddler, Porter Corum was the fiddler

with him before I joined his band. And, this was in 1982. And I played with

Homer for a year and half or so, couple of years, before I moved on to another

Bluegrass band that was working a whole lot more at the time. But, I loved being

around Homer, he was very inspiring, and of course he was that sort of

consummate musician and luthier, he was sort of the, I didn't know it at the

time, that impression of him would be so informative for me, but I look back on

him and see it, you know, that it was a great mix for a life to be able to do

the music and work on the instruments and appreciate them across the board.

I got interested in acoustic set-up when I was playing with him and I'd start

doing things that I had no idea about, messing with my sound post which a lot of

fiddlers do, pulling the sound post around and noticing how it changes the

instrument, and keeping the acoustics confused by always shifting it around.

And, you know, I didn't do a whole lot like that, but I did get a guitar from

Homer that I finished out. It was mostly put together. I had to mount the neck

and do the varnish work and do the setup and that sort of thing. He'd get these

kits from Sigma Guitar Company, from Martin Guitars, and I picked up one from

him when I was in his band just for fun. But, I was really a musician playing a

lot of music, and in the early 80s I was getting interested in Celtic fiddle,

and Old Time fiddle, I was going both directions, and in traditional work I was

moving into, from Bluegrass into Old Time, and more into like, Celtic, Irish and

Scottish, exploring those directions. And I would have a Bluegrass band; I would

have a Celtic group that would play, and then I discovered Django Reinhardt and

Stephane Grapelli, through an interesting connection.

Do you want to hear that? It's kind of odd--.

AF: Well yeah!

AM: It's an interesting line of how things fallout. There was a band in the 60s

called the Kentucky Colonels, and they traveled all around, and they were a

touring band from California to Maine, all over the United States. And, there

was a musician in that band name Bob Slone, who played bass. And they had

another bass player, sometimes it was Bob, sometimes it was someone else, but

Bob had a friend from Pike County, he was from Pike County. He had a friend

named Harry Hopkins, and Harry traveled out to California with them and the

significant thing about the Kentucky Colonels was their guitar player, Clarence

White, was a real innovator in how to play guitar. He really transformed how the

guitar was approached in Bluegrass music. He set the stage for the colossal

impact that Tony Rice ended up having in his approach to taking the leads on the

guitar; Clarence White was exploring that territory. And, back in the 60s, Harry

Hopkins, Clarence White got killed, he got hit by a car out in California, and

Harry, who was a friend of this whole circle of people, ended up with these

reel-to-reel tapes and Harry's son Danny was the guitar player in the band that

I went and joined after playing with Homer, so Danny Hopkins was in this band

called Stoney Creek that I played in, joined in 1983. We still get together and

play occasionally for one thing or the other as amazing as that may seem--

So, Danny had these reel-to-reel tapes and at the time I could go into the music

lab at UK and dub them off onto cassettes, and I realized that Clarence White

was listening to Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt recordings, and that was

the big inspiration, or some of the--

Interview interrupted -- light blows, chatter about lights going out,

videographer forced to stop filming and replace bulb

AF: Ok, so you have some of these recordings and you take them to the music lab

at UK and figure out who was playing what--

AM: Well the recordings were all recordings of the Hot Club of Paris, France,

which were recordings done in the 30s, 1934-35 up through '38-39. But these,

I've found over the years since then, these, recordings were tremendously

influential. I've met, there was a guy that used to come to Mr. Miller's shop

named Paul Sap who played professionally, he used to play on the Lawrence Welk

show before, when, where was he at in Kansas? I think there was some mid-western

state, before he went to television he had a radio show, and he played electric

guitar with him, and like I think he would have been in high school, or a

teenager in the 30s when these albums would come out, they would drive all the

way to Cincinnati just to pick up the latest Django Reinhardt and Stephane

Grapelli recording, and a lot of, if you listen to Old Time players like Clayton

McMitchen, who after being in the Skillet Lickers in the 20s moved to

Louisville, and had a band called the Georgia Wildcats, you start, if you find,

if you listen to what the guitar players are doing, and you listen to Hank

Williams Senior, you listen to the rhythms of the guitar players, you listen to

Bob Wills, there's a whole Western swing, you can hear it in Bluegrass music

too, there's an offbeat chop of the mandolin, there's a tremendously strong

influence of this swing jazz music and Reinhardt and Grapelli were acoustic

instruments, guitar, fiddle and bass, so it spoke right across, in a way most

jazz of the day and swing jazz was a good bit of people doing band instruments,

but it spoke directly to a lot of the acoustically centered musicians of the day

and fit right in to the string and the tradition very strongly.

It was neat for me to discover that because I didn't know anything about it

growing up, and I didn't know anything about it until I heard these recordings.

Although, I had played in another little side band and someone had told me that

I had played, well, some of the things that we learned and played were old

pieces from the 30s, I just wasn't so familiar as to get to listen to what

Grapelli really sounded like. So, he's been a strong influence on my jazz

interested side.

AF: So, you're experiencing all this and finding, sort of new music while you're

at UK, is that shaping your experience at UK? What was that like?

AM: I lived kind of a, I was almost gonna say Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, there's a

polarity in me that is uh, partly rooted in my religious background. I think the

strange thing about being really fundamentally interested in the text and

studying it very, very closely, is an academic thing. An then there's this

musical thing, that caught me from an age that can't remember, that's always

been part of my life, but both have always been part of my life, and what I did

at UK was I took an undergraduate in philosophy.

AF: Oh, ok--

AM: So, I was really interested in the history of ideas, I took anthropology

classes and history classes, and I was in the honors program, I really loved

just, "what is this thing we call humanity?" sorts of questions, and culture.

So, I got really interested in Greek, and in my last two years as an

undergraduate I took classical Greek and took some Latin, and took a Master's

degree there in Classical Languages, and then, um, I was married at the time and

it wasn't a good time to move to go in to another kind of program so I took a

Master's degree in Philosophy, and continued on with doctoral work in philosophy

before I met Mr. Miller. I actually took an ethnomusicology class, um Ron Pen, I

remember when he came to UK, and I took a graduate level ethnomusicology class

one year and I made my project about Mr. Miller. And because I had met him when

he was about, I met him when he was 88 years old, so that would have been in

1986, but I hadn't been around him very much. And, but I remembered him, and

wanted to spend some time with him, so I started hanging out with him quite a

bit and he was a sort of fellow that seemed like he remembered everything that

ever happen to him, and everything that ever happened to him was significant.

And, you know, for so many decades of figuring out how to tell the story and

tell it well, he was just a jewel to be around.

So, typically I would run and get lunch, and go sit and have lunch with him, and

chat with him. And I asked him 3 times if he would apprentice me, and was turned

down. And he'd say, he was in his 90s already, and he'd say, Mize, I can make 6

violins in a year, but if I took on an apprentice I might make 1 or 2. It would

just slow me down too much. But as he got older, he got to the point where I

think he just really reflected on the fact that he was just going to take all of

this information with him, and I think it just dawned on him that he wasn't

going to live forever. Here he is in his 90s, and he finally figures it out, and

I just kept hanging around him because he was just so enjoyable. And he was sort

of grandfatherly to me; and his only grandson had died of a drug overdose, and I

think it was just a really good match. I needed someone kind of, of his bearing,

in my life at the time, and I filled something for him too, and it was really a

sweet thing. So, he eventually said I'll apprentice you.

AF: Will you tell me a little bit about his background? So, how was he trained?

What was his experience, and what was his first name?

AM: Joseph Bernard. Although I think they probably said Bernard-- But that's

what he puts on all his labels and instruments, Joseph Bernard Miller. Everybody

called him J.B.

AF: Ok.

AM: He was born in 1902, born in Owen County. Grew up in Gratz, in Owen County,

on the river. His family had a big farm, and he was one of 11 kids I think, he

was down near the bottom of the stretch, if I'm not mistaken, but I don't

remember exactly-- He was very recognized by his family and people around him as

mechanically adept. So, when they needed a single tree repaired, or some kind of

equipment around the farm to be fixed, he was a good woodworker and just had a

good mechanically sensibility about fixing things. So, there was a lot of

fiddling around. His dad was an Old Time fiddler and he had an uncle that was an

Old Time fiddler. So, the musical interest was there, and he and his brother,

Bob played banjo and fiddle, I think they may even have swapped back and forth a

little bit, and played at little parties around in Owen County when he was a

kid, so, he was already kind of tying into a community of people around him that

played. So, known as someone who could fixed things, the postmaster as I

understand it, in Gratz, or in the vicinity, turned him on to a book that had

come out called Violin Making: As It Was and Is (correct title, verified), by

Heron-Allen. I have this copy right over there I could get it for you and show

it to you, it's just torn to shreds, and it's the copy he started with, and

maybe I could get over there and pull it out and show it to you, it's just

amazing to see it.

But, I'm a little ahead of the story, because what happened first was, he had a

brother that got married, and his fiddle was under the, of course, this is how

he told the story and I hope it's true because it's too good of a story, but

evidently the slats fell out from the under the bed on his wedding night and

crushed the fiddle.

AF: Oh-- yeah--

AM: And there was someone else whose wife was the stenographer for the court and

she had the stenography machine, big, heavy piece of equipment from what I

understand, sitting on a little spindlely legged table, and those were his

words, spindlely legged table over in the corner, and the guy had his fiddle all

the way across the room propped up in the other corner, and the legs broke on

the table and threw that stenography machine all the way across the floor and

into the fiddle and busted the belly out of it.

So, his brother and his friend, they bring these two fiddles with the bellies

busted out of them and say, can you make us one fiddle that we can share? So he

takes the back off of one, cuts the f holes out and what not, puts it together,

so they've got a fiddle to play, that's where the postmaster got involved, ok,

because he saw that and he says, you know you oughta check out the supply

company in Michigan, VC Squire Company in Michigan, that had a catalog, and you

can get that violin making book from it and that's what got J.B. going on making violins.

But his first repair was actually on his dad's violin because his dad had put

his violin in the chest of drawers, not everybody carried them around in cases

and sometimes nap sacks, whatever, it was in the chest of drawers and with the

farming economy and farming life you might go several months without playing and

not taking your fiddle out. So he pulled his fiddle out and a mouse had gotten

inside it and what mice do to a fiddle is they see that little opening, and they

say well if I just widen that out a little bit, and so they'll widen out a hole

here around the f hole and get in there and make their nest, and that's where it

happened. So he actually, his first repair was to trim out that gnawed out part

of the wood and graft another piece of the wood in, right, and then trim it down

to shape and then varnish it to match. And, I've seen that, he did beautiful

work, and so that was his first repair before he did the, making one fiddle out

of two exercise that he did, and I know that when he really got interested in it

and he read the Heron-Allen book about violin making he also went to a violin

shop in Cincinnati, he went to Wurlitzers from what I understand, and the guy

behind the desk let him go down stairs, from what I picture, he went down the

stairs to where the repair shop was, he says he you can go down and talk to the

repairman. He went down there and talked to him and he says he wasn't down there

but about 2 minutes when the guy hollered down, that's as much time as I can

spare ya. So the repairman said look, you're a barber, make your living

barbering because you'll do better making violins on the side and barbering, and

it was a big life decision for him to go ahead professionally as a barber and do

repair and violin making on the side.

So he did until he retired from barbering in 1965, at which point he was

communing with people from Nashville like Ray Cuffin, I've heard people talk

about coming to his shop over on Strafford Drive and finding Vasser Clements in

there, or Kenny Baker, or someone told me just a couple of weeks ago that they

went in there, in his shop one time-- A guy brought me a violin to repair that

he got from Mr. Miller, and he said that he went in there one time and Roy Clark

was in there, so he was good buddies with (unable to transcribe 5-10 words due

to background noise) and a lot of Nashville scene going on in the 60s and the

early 70s.

AF: So that's interesting, so he was repairing violins on the side, making a

living primarily as a barber, but when he retired he was able to shift that?

AM: Yeah, he was totally into the instrument work. He lived in Frankfort,

barbering at a big 5 chair barber shop, and I think it would have been part of

hotel near the capital that he was in, and he worked 10 years in Frankfort from

1923 to 1933. But he was, for the last few years of that, he made his first

violin in 1929, and, so from 1929-1933 he would travel to Lexington, he knew

some people here because of his capital connections and the people he was

shaving and doing the haircut for, and of course, that was back in the days of

razors and strops and all that sort of stuff too, but he would come to Lexington

on the weekend and pick up instruments from the symphony people here, take them

back to Frankfort for the week, do the repairs in the evenings, take them back

the next weekend, and would be kind of in rotation doing repairs here, so he

fell out of sorts with the guy who managed the barber shop there in Frankfort

and he just decided, well, I'll just move to Lexington, so that's what he did.

AF: That's interesting, so he never actually formally studied with someone.

AM: No--

AF: No, it was just all on his own.

AM: No, he went to, he did meet a very famous violin maker of the day, one of

the finest makers in America, was in Northern Kentucky, his name was Robert

Glier. And, he told me about going to visit Robert Glier, and that he invited

him up and had dinner with him and his wife, and he was someone who perused

avenues to knowledge where he could find them-- that way. There was a doctor in

Lexington named Trapp, who would travel the world to see famous instruments, and

he had a photograph collection that I have over here to that I can show you of

instruments, and so he got an instrument education about telling the difference

between German, French, Italian instruments and that sort of thing, learning

instruments of quality, and about the history of instruments from this kind of

amateur here in Lexington who was just really enthused about the topic.

AF: Well that's a really interesting backstory for him.

AM: It is.

AF: So that just, that drew you to him, that sort of personal story--

AM: Oh yeah, oh yeah--

AF: About his abilities...

AM: Oh yeah, and he was vivacious, and loved young people. You know, a lot of

older people kind of dry up and get off to themselves and he was never like

that. He couched his church baseball team until he was in his 60s, and it was

funny, because the distance from him, from the back step of his house to his

garage was 20 yards, and he would race ya. I mean, from the first time I met

him, he'd say well lets go out to the shop and he'd just cut out running. He

was, he had a vital energy that was rare.

So you started to study with him, like you finally convinced him, or he finally

gave in and realized the significance of passing on this knowledge, so how long

did you work with him?

AM: Two years.

AF: Two years.

AM: For two years, and what I did is, I would find instruments like this (picks

up broken instrument to demonstrate) and I would say, what do I do? And so he

would lead me through the process of how to do good repairs essentially. He

would say, Mize, you can't make a living making violins. Do it if you want to,

but I'm gonna show you how to do good repairs, because you can make a living for

your family working on instruments--

AF: So, how were you making a living at that point?

AM: Well, I was giving private music lessons, and I was playing gigs, I've had

pretty vigorous involvement in the music performance industry around here where

it can be found, and I was on a graduate student stipend in philosophy as well,

TAing and teaching classes. So, just piecing it together like that, like I do.

It's just now the graduate student teaching has been replaced by shop work, you

know, repair, and I'm still doing music lessons, private music lessons, and

still doing a lot of gigging, as much as I can.

AF: Well, was that, you know what 's funny with TA funding, it's enough to get

you by, but was it a big shift for you to decide to let that funding go and, and

decide that I'm going to make it on lessons, and gigs, and repair work.

AM: I transitioned out of it. I didn't plan it this way when I did it, but I was

also teaching, I was already supplementing my TA stipend with part-time

instructing, so, if I could teach in the philosophy department as a doctoral

student, but because of my MA in classical languages I could teach medical

terminology from Greek and Latin.

AF: Oh, yeah--

AM: Which was offered at BCTC, which then was known as Lexington Community

College, or there was an evening and weekend course program at UK that offered

the same course. So, I might teach a course or two semester to semester extra,

you know, just to stay in that. And I did that until-- I don't know that last

time I taught one of those medical terminology classes, maybe 8-9 years ago. So

I continued that for a quite a while and then got pretty burned out on it, but I

do miss teaching, I do miss the classroom. I'm going to do some very limited

work with some homeschoolers next fall.

AF: Oh, ok. Well, I think that's interesting that you transitioned out of that,

and took it sort of slowly, so where did you first open your shop at, and when

did if it first become a shop?

AM: Oh, that's a good question, I was blessed because there I was learning and

apprenticing with Mr. Miller, with his shop behind his house, so once I'd done

this for two years, and this was in 1997, when I, from '95-'97, when I was

apprenticing with him, and I opened, he let me use his shop space to get started

in. And I was there in his shop from '97 until 2003, 2002 when he died. And when

he passed away there was some unclarity about what was going to happen to the

estate and whatnot, so I moved. I had already moved here to this house, so I

moved in here. And then, kind of thought it might be nice to have a space off by

itself and be out of the family's hair, and I think my wife enjoyed me getting

it out of the house, and I moved down on Short Street, there was a little space.

And it was just expensive paying rent every month on top of everything. I found

as a repair person people will come to me, and I don't need a shop space out

somewhere like a storefront, people will tend to find you if you do this kind of

personal close repair work.

AF: So, you've kind of spread by word of mouth, you've built a reputation on

your ability to repair and you don't necessarily need to market yourself to a

certain extent.

AM: Right.

AF: Yeah, ok. Well, let's talk a little bit about the work that you do. I think

it's very interesting, the number of musicians I meet, that do restoration work,

they build from scratch, they're playing gigs at the same time. Talk a bit about

all of the things that you are doing here in your shop.

AM: Ok, of course, the main thing that I'm doing is, as far as restoration, is

putting an instrument in good order. Usually that's in the interest of just

making it playable and so it performs well, but the interesting thing about

violins is that I also see it as being a conservator, because a lot of the

instruments I work on do have historic and interest and historic value. And for

people that are interested in the history of instrument making, if I do

something that really alters and instrument then I need to take that into

careful consideration. For example, I did, I restored an instrument that was

made in Amsterdam in 1815, about 3 years ago, it was a really interesting

instrument to work on. There are some kinds of things that you do in restoring a

violin, and violin culture is very unique, it's inbreed, there are very peculiar

ways and principals that are inherent to the violin culture about what should do

and what you shouldn't do to an instrument. And some of that is obvious with any

instrument, like revarnishing, you destroy a certain amount of antique value by

replacing the varnish with a new varnish, so you tend to avoid doing that.

But there are some repairs that are part of adapting and older instrument to a

modern set of criteria. So, violin necks were shorter up until the mid-1800s,

although the lengthening of the violin neck happened in different places in

Europe at different times. First started in France in the late 1700s around

Paris, but it spread throughout the course of the 1800s through continental

regions and England. So, if you come across a violin that has a short neck you

have to adapt it, modernize it, I actually have a graft that I'm doing here,

it's an old, there's an old scroll-- This violin was made about 1810, the box

I've got back here, and this is the box to that violin(picks up violin in

shop).German made instrument, about 1810. Very characteristic type of flame,

very narrow banded flame, that's typical of these instruments and the look. And

this instrument had a short neck, so I've had to make a whole new neck angle,

neck handle is the word I'm looking for, and graft it along three surfaces, this

side and this side, tapering in to increase the glue surface and underneath, and

that's tricky. But as far as a repair, that's one of the most sophisticated

repairs that you can do, is to graft a new neck handle and to get the modern

criteria for the length, but we generally consider that a suitable kind of

adaptation although you are throwing away an original part of the instrument,

its gone forever, it's such a common operation to do and you won't find, there

may be one or two original Stradivarius that haven't been modernized. It's very

rare to run across one that hasn't been modified, but it can't really be played,

I mean it could be played, but you run into difficulties of playing in the

modern environment if they're not up to modern, what's the word, particulars, details--

AF: How long does it take you to do something like that, Art?

AM: This is hours and hours of work. Many, many hours. Typically the cost run on

a graft like that is (interruption in filming). These days-- (another

interruption in filming)-- $1400.00, $1600.00 dollars. So it has to be an

instrument that would be of enough value to warrant doing the work to, right,

before you would even touch it. So there are a lot of older instruments that

just aren't worth giving that attention to, and frankly a lot of instruments

that you run across today that haven't been grafted or modernized just aren't

worth it and that's why they haven't been. But occasionally you'll run across an

older instrument that just hasn't had the opportunity.

Some folks brought me an instrument from Clay County last year, and it came from

the creek that my great-grandfather lived on who also played fiddle and I just

couldn't help but imagine him playing this fiddle. It was a great old violin,

but it had never been modernized. It was probably a late 1700s violin, probably

one of the finest instruments I've ever seen come out of the mountains. It's

still in the mountains. Some folks in Clay County still own it. I do, it is

interesting to me with my background, to run across instruments that are from

the mountains, or from the Appalachian culture like this, this instrument that's

here in front of me is from Leslie County as well.

AF: So the instruments that you come across, they, you know from Leslie County

or Clay County, were they made there or were they brought by immigrants?

AM: They were brought by immigrants, or ordered by catalog. The one from Clay

County that was so old was certainly brought by immigrants or purchased, you

know, there was a lot of traveling in the economy. I had an ancestor that would

travel from Clay County to Abingdon, Virginia, you know, if you're in the

merchant class of people. So it wouldn't be impossible to come across an

instrument, to buy, and sale, and barter for a nice instrument if you knew what

to appreciate.

This instrument is very poor. The one from Clay County was superb, this one is

very poor, it was made in a factory where the emphasis was to make it quickly,

so the back was very thick, the belly is very, very thick, the base bar, wish I

had one that was open-- Oh, I can show you one that is open, if I can get up and

come back-- Here's an exquisitely made violin, this, the exquisitely made

violin, and you'll see the difference between a carefully finished and finely

graduated belly, all smooth, and a true base bar that has been grafted on and

fitted very closely, you can't even see the joint, but they are two separate

pieces of wood. Great deal of focus and care goes in to doing that.

And this is a one piece of wood that's just been roughhewn, they've probably

taken a knife blade and cut down each side and left the ridge wood standing.

This is both structurally inferior, in terms of the support on the instrument;

it may be why we have this crack here, because it just doesn't hold up the

weight of the strings on the belly. And acoustically very inferior, because one

thing that the base bar does is make the top function as one larger piece of

wood moving together and that promotes better base response. So this puny thing

is not going to cut it. So, what I'm doing to this violin, it's not, there's a

little irony here, I would never do a regraduation on this violin (reaches over

to other violin on desk) because it's so well made, I'd never touch it, I'd

leave it in tack because it represents very good artistry and I wouldn't go

through measuring and changing things, but this is kind of junky. So I've

regraduated the back, and you can see how the wood is all white, I've already

regraduated the back, so this is going to be a really nice, viable instrument

with great old wood. This is probably 1870s or 80s, and I'm going to make it

structurally sound and I'm going to graduate the belly once I get this horrible

top crack repaired, by some miracle I'm going to get that fixed. And then I'm

going to take the base bar off and graduate the belly and I'm going to turn it

into this, and then, this will be a screamer.

AF: Well, I'm curious about a couple of things. The first thing, when you finish

this repair, since were using this particular violin as an example, how much

does something like that run, for you to restore so many different parts? What

all comes with it when you are averaging that cost, or calculating that cost?

What all comes in to play for you?

AM: For me?

AF: Yeah--

AM: Mostly it's just time, because there aren't a lot of expensive parts until

you get in to setup, and then you've got the costs of pegs or the cost of a

bridge, but, you know, I'll be taking a piece of spruce and trimming it down for

the shape of the bar. There's not much in the way of material costs, it's all in

the way of labor.

But it is interesting what happens on the value side for the owner of the

instrument, because for a lot of people, there is just, what is this instrument

worth? And in the market, once you do whatever repairs or restoration is

required, does it warrant in its market value investing more money in it? So, if

you have to do $600.00 dollars of repair and the violin will be worth $1000.00,

you gotta say, is it for me to do it, or am I going to pass it on to someone

else to put that money and that it would be important to do. Or, if it's going

to be $1000.00 to put in, and it's only going to be worth 5, it might not be

worth doing it. This is a classic situation where a violin is not going to be

worth as much as the money that's being put in it, and that happens when the

violin has sentimental value. So, there's a family here that this violin has

come down through the family, and they just happen to have the resources to

invest in it and want to put it in tiptop condition and keep it, and they want

it to be a viable instrument on into the next decades as they pass it on down.

So, we'll improve the instrument, it will be a great player, and it will improve

its value because it will be a singer like it has never before been, right, but

it will never have the value of an instrument like this that was properly made

from the beginning, but still, its value is in the heirloom territory.

AF: So, as a luthier then, how do you feel about the finished product? You put

all this time, all this labor into it, what is that like, to finish and hear

someone play it? AM: Oh it's wonderful, you know, it's always exciting to hear

what one's going to sound like, but getting the structural repairs done and the

restoration done and then being involved in setting it up too, I have a lot of,

a lot of input in the kind of sound that it ends up having, because how you

tailor a bridge, making it sound its best, there's a lot that I do to

instruments just on the setup side, in addition to the kind of structural

repairs. So, you know, if this instrument could come to me, and I'd need to make

a bridge, right, or if it's like this one that's missing its saddle, the piece

underneath that protects the top from the force of the string pressure pulling

against it, there are parts that I have to make to set this up. But there is a

lot of tonal adjustment, and I have people that bring me their instruments and

say it's just so hard edged on the treble, which is usually the fault of the

violin--. You like the base ok, but you get up on the high end and it just

screeches or it's really hard edged and unpleasant. So, what do you do to change

the tone? Well, there's a variety of issues and alignment in how the bridge is

cut and the post position that really, dramatically affect the quality of the

voice. So, knowing ways to change the sound to get, um, to make someone happier,

with what their instrument sings, is something that I do a lot.

AF: So then, what's the difference, or do you feel a difference, between an

instrument that you repair or restore, versus one that you make from scratch?

AM: You know, I do a whole lot more of the repairing and restoring, so I

encounter that a whole lot more, but making one from scratch is, it's a totally

different gratification.

AF: How so?

AM: Well, because the whole thing is yours, and it's not just the voice, it's

that-- for this instrument I drew the scroll, and scrolls differ, so if you look

at these two they're very different from each other, and people studying violin

scrolls, there's an aesthetic that you acquire, and it isn't an absolute

judgment -- that's a good scroll and that's a bad one -- but you get a

sensibility about what you like. And so, I mean, I drew that scroll because when

I drew it, that's what I liked. And the f hole is just the same, and even though

I was very meticulous about laying out the geometry of the box, and regions by

Stradivarian principles from the early 1700s, still I chose my arching and the

shapes of my corners to say, it's me. So there's a lot that's stylistically me,

so it's a gratification--

AF: Because there is a lot of you in it, yeah--

AM: You won't find if you're very keen on the differences between instruments,

you won't find this instrument anywhere else; it's the only one of its kind in

the world. You know, for that, because it has that assemblage of preferences and

design elements in it that just are my personality. So it's a whole world of

different gratifications, it's complex-- it's fun. You know about it, really--

AF: Yeah--

AM: And this is great, the gratification here is that I'm really doing something

for somebody else and that's what really got me into this sort of an ivory

tower, academic feeling like I'm , you can teach in a class, but I always liked

teaching private music lessons because you are dealing with one person and

you're really finding what they understand and what they don't and really

connecting into that, and this is sort of a direct personal service sort of

thing too, and I really liked that. I could hear the echo of Saint Paul saying,

you know, be quiet and work with your hands. There was sort of an ideal when I

switched into this that I was living out and thinking in terms of those kinds

of, what kind of life do I want to live, ultimately, am I going to grow up and

have a career, yes, I'll do this to where I'm really working with my hands,

close, personal work where I'm doing a direct service for people who need this

done. And I like that.

So, there's a realize nice gratification in that, independent of what the

instrument sounds like, or what it turns out like, there's sort of a nice, being

part of this weave of, web of people that are interested or in need of something

to be done.

AF: Well, I see what you're saying about the very different two forms of

gratification for you. If I can ask you a few more questions about the one that

you've made from scratch-- The tools that you're using, and the sketches that

you're doing, you're doing all those by hand.

AM: Yes.

AF: Are you using computers in any way?

AM: You know, I'm not really, except sometimes for research.

AF: Ok.

AM: You can find lots of photographs of great historic instruments online, but

no, I'm not generating anything that way and my design work I'm doing on a big

piece of paper with a compass and with a ruler, and I'm drawing it all out.

AF: As someone who takes a very, literally hands-on approach and does it by

hand, do you judge, or would you judge violins differently if they had been

produced through the use of a CNC machine where someone had put in the

dimensions and it had been cut out--

AM: This is a wonderful question--

AF: What do you think about that?

AM: And it is very timely, because we've seen a real transition over the last,

in the time since '97 or '95, when I've been kind of in the middle of this, I've

seen tremendous change in what's happening that way because the sophistication

of the instruments and the quality of the instruments that are coming out of

shops and factory settings where they are cranking them out through computer

imaging, that quality has improved, and improved, and improved, and improved

over the years and it's really phenomenal. I have some instruments back in

there, Chinese made, that are just phenomenal when they are made that way.

At least to the degree to which they are roughed out, and how much the detail

finishing work is, how close the machine can get, I don't know, but in

principle, instruments of higher and higher quality sound are getting cheaper

and cheaper because more of the process can be mastered well using the kind of

technology that you are speaking about, or that you've mentioned, so it makes

sense, what doesn't happen with that are the individual characteristics of an

instrument like this.

I'll say this, just out of pure frankness and candidness, that it's actually an

issue, I think, for people that do make instruments by hand, whether they can

keep, they can hold their superiority of voice over and against the various and

astute technology that's crafting these instruments from the style that you're

talking about. There's a lore, and in the lore about instruments we're sure that

something handmade like this allows the maker to achieve heights of

discrimination about a particular piece of wood that a machine can't do, you

know, where you line up 50 pieces of wood in a row and you carve them all the

same, and if that's what a factory method is, then the person who's judging how

that particular piece of wood moves and responds should be able to maintain

superiority, but if you couple the factory technology, with what I'm reading

about which are methods of testing the elasticity of the wood and strength of

the wood, and then you adjust your carving to the peculiarities of the wood, I'm

not sure that down the road the individual maker is just going to be surpassed

because the technological knowledge about the materials and the way to manage

the materials, and the particular details that really determine good tone, that

once those are controlled and mapped out scientifically then a factory can do

better than any individual because the knowledge base is more available to the

person. Or, at least, you'd have to have the degree from MIT in that particular

field of study to go in to that arena of work in order to get what would be

coming out from the factory. So at least someone like me, who didn't go to a

violin making school, right, would probably be surpassed-- you might find that

this doesn't happen as much, just is terms of the economy, but the world economy

has to keep going in the same direction, cheap labor in China and cheap labor in

Romania, producing instruments that perform pretty well--

AF: Do you think that there will always be a market though, for handmade instruments?

AM: Yes, yes.

AF: I do too.

AM: I think the charm of something that, you can tell an immediate difference

between an instrument that is factory made and one that is handmade by those

kinds of subtleties and nuances. Like, Mr. Miller's mandolin, if I can just go

and grab another instrument-- This, you'll never see another instrument like it

in the world. It has a beautiful maple, very curly maple, in the back, and he

didn't bind it in the way that mandolins are usually made with the binding

around the edge, he put the perfeling in that a violin has and a double row. So

it looks very distinctive, very unique, and he's put this carved ridge in the

back, sculpted this shape, it's very unique. So we have a beautiful instrument

that's all Mr. Miller, it's so, it has so much personality; the selection of the

appointments, and the way he did the headstock and design... You know, a lot of

people make their own instruments and put Gibson appointments on them, I don't

know why, it's like the whole speech of making the instrument is to make it what

you would say, but here you are quoting someone else. Right, it's plagiarism.

It's kind of an odd thing. There's a quoting a great sounding instrument, and

doing what you have to do to make it a really great instrument, but then there's

what you're saying with the style of it and the exterior of it that really

should not mimic factory product, ultimately in my opinion, and my way of

looking at things, and for that reason, that an economy that's based on

individual's works, and artistic work, and craft, you should have a place.

AF: Right--

AM: And maintain its place.

(Interruption, videographer changes tape)