"We have a sound signature which no one else comes close to," says John Fisher, founder of the Great American Banjo Band. "What makes us so unusual is that we have three banjos, piano and tuba. The tuba player is not just an oompah tuba player. He plays more lead and more solos than the pianist."
Founded in 1979 with musicians Fisher knew from playing with the Potomac River Jazz Club, the Great American Banjo Band usually plays the banquet/convention circuit between the dessert and dancing (though they did do a Fourth of July on the South Lawn of the White House three years ago). Tonight and the next two Sundays, they will perform as a solo act at the Papillon Restaurant, 6111 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, from 8 to 11 p.m.
Versatility seems to be a trademark. In addition to playing lead banjo, Fisher doubles on the fife, toy piano, glockenspiel and trombone-kazoo -- a kazoo with a trombone-like slide. "Finding a trombone-kazoo is about as difficult as finding a tuba player who can play the lead," says Fisher. The group's third banjo player also plays musical saw and washboard.
But the Great American Banjo Band does not have a country/bluegrass sound. They use only four-string plectrum and tenor banjos and play a variety of tunes that include "Cabaret," "Never on Sunday" and "Bill Bailey."
Says Fisher, "We're probably the closest thing you can find to vaudeville which is a pure musical act."