Do you happen to enjoy classic country music?
If so, you’re surely familiar with Jana Jae, the award-winning musician whose superb mastery of the fiddle prompted country music icon Buck Owens to invite her to join his band as the very first female Buckaroo.
Jana performed with Buck and many other top-tier singers and musicians over the years, most notably as a member of the cast of the ultra-popular Country music variety show Hee-Haw.
Never one to sit idle while the world passes her by, Jana is still hard at work playing her iconic blue fiddle in concerts both here in the U.S. and all around the world.
And when time permits she also loves teaching and mentoring aspiring musicians of all ages.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jana about her long and successful career and her abounding love of music.
Here are ten questions and answers with Jana Jae…
Q: Jana, you are one of the most accomplished musicians to ever pick up an instrument. How old were you when you first started learning to play the fiddle/violin?
A: Both my parents were studying violin at Juilliard when I came along, and they started me playing at age 2 1/2 on a really fine German eighth-size violin!
Q: Who influenced you the most when you were just starting out as a professional musician?
A: My mom kept me going through all the years of learning and performing, and her dad was a champion old-time fiddler, so I had both playing by ear and playing by note from a young age, plus exposure to soooo many great fiddlers and violinists.
But really going full time into music as a profession, I have to credit Buck Owens with influencing me as a professional.
He really showed by example how to capture a crowd, present a quality show, and he would give me advice, like, “Connect with the audience! You have to sparkle!!”
Really great advice, and I do love performing and sharing music in whatever venue!
And of course, Buck’s show took me to an international level as a performer, so I had lots of opportunities to practice the art of connecting with a crowd!
Q: Most people know you as a country musician but you have actually performed in several genres, ranging all the way from Bluegrass to Classical.
Is Country your favorite style of music or do you actually prefer a different genre?
A: I’ve made my career with Country music, and I love Country because you can relate to folks, tell stories with music, strike that chord in people’s hearts that touches emotion – happy and rhythmic, showy, or bring a tear with a beautiful, soulful melody.
But also, I truly enjoy every genre of music as long as it’s good quality music in that genre.
Of course, classical masters are totally awesome and I love soloing with an orchestra or playing chamber music in a string quartet.
Bluegrass is a real kick – so intricate and challenging and fun!
Celtic is a popular genre now, and I arranged an Irish Medley for me to solo with full orchestra.
Jazz – totally awesome as well.
Music presents an unending challenge, and I like to reach folks where they are in their enjoyment of music.
Requests can come in any genre, and I love that challenge!
Q: It was easy to tell you loved performing on Hee-Haw. What’s your favorite memory from that show?
A: Gosh, so many many memories!
Probably the happiest was when I felt so welcomed by Roy Clark – and really the entire cast!
When Roy and I first did a few tunes together, Roy just lit up and grinned from ear to ear at some of my unique licks, we had a blast!
The fiddle group jams were really favorite memories, too – such fun!
Q: If you had the chance to start all over again, what one thing would you do differently this time around?
A: Not one thing! I love my niche and love what I’m doing, thanks to many mentors along the way!
Q: You were originally from Montana. How (and why) did you end up in Oklahoma?
A: Actually, I was in Montana for only a few weeks!!
My dad was in the Air Force, stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, when I was born!
Back to New York, then years later when I was seven, my folks divorced, we moved to Idaho to live with my fiddle champ granddad and pianist grandmother.
THAT opened up worlds of fun family jam sessions, then when I was married and had my two children, we lived in Redding, California. The California years in Redding and later Bakersfield made up several chapters of my life!
Finally, when I went out on my own, Hee Haw producer Sam Lovullo told me I should call Jim Halsey, who had an International Talent Agency in Tulsa. They took me in to their stable of talent.
That was magical and brought me to Oklahoma, which I loved because it’s so central and I could travel to gigs all over the country and get right back home.
I found out when I bought my home on Grand Lake, near Tulsa, that my grandparents lived right there as newlyweds, and we have relatives galore in the area!!!
So I came full circle without even realizing it! I feel my grandparents’ musical influence every day.
I had a beautiful house on Music Row in Nashville for about 10 years, right up the alley from good friends Chet Atkins and Ray Stevens, but finally had to decide between Nashville and Tulsa as a base.
The Halsey Company was booking me, and my kids were happy in Tulsa, so that made my final decision. But I will always love spending time in Nashville!
Q: Besides music, what are some of your other interests?
A: Skiing, swimming, gardening, reading, traveling, business (I have an art shop and a campground), some TV like PBS Masterpiece, etc. on Sunday evenings, composing, and back to music, music, music!
Q: What’s the most embarrassing experience you ever had during a performance (that you like to joke about today)?
A: While on stage, I thought the audience in front was looking a bit distracted. About the third song, I looked down and realized I had on two different colors of boots, one grey and one brown!
Sheesh, I was horrified! So I turned things over to feature the band for a number or two and quickly slipped out to the bus, found the correct boot to make a pair.
They thought that was hilarious, and we laughed about the moment of realization for years!
I always loved featuring the band, and said once, “That was Don Morris on one he wrote, and now we’ll show Jack off! Here’s Under the Double Eagle.“
The band tried to stifle uncontrollable laughter during that song – took me a moment, but ever after I rephrased that introduction. Was my face red!!
Q: I’m sure young and aspiring musicians frequently ask you for advice. What’s the one thing that you always tell them?
A: Persistence! Stay true to yourself and don’t give up, but enjoy what you are doing! You can’t lose if you love it!
Q: If you could sum up your life and career with one word or phrase, what would it be?
A: Sharing! Music is a part of me I can share with others and with the world.
My payback is when someone catches “fiddle fever” or really is inspired to get into music. That’s joy for a lifetime for all concerned!
Music is sharing joy for a lifetime!
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me, Jana. Stay busy – and healthy – in your travels!
To finish up, here are a pair of fantastic short videos featuring Jana’s awesome fiddle work.
First, “Listen To The Mockingbird”….
And here’s Jana performing with Byron Berline and her band at her 2015 induction into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame…
Videos courtesy of BurritoBuck and Jane Frost.