Mary Jessie MacDonald

Track 11 : Mary Jessie MacDonald (Piano)

Mrs. Ferguson of Reaths, air (Trad)
Lord Donne's Strathspey (Trad)
Pigeon on the Gate, reel (Trad)
Miss Johnson Pitworth, reel (J. Walker)

Mary Jessie MacDonald started playing with Buddy MacMaster during the early 50's in Boston where, as a young woman, she had moved from her hometown of New Waterford. She accompanied all the visiting fiddlers, including Winston Fitzgerald, Angus Chisholm, Bill Lamey, Joe MacLean and Michael Anthony MacLean.

Mary Jessie is the daughter of Mary Hughie MacDonald, a fiddler who played with the richest of Gaelic accents and who was highly regarded by the fiddlers mentioned above and by Buddy MacMaster. Although Mary Jessie rarely recorded commercially, she was the first choice for many of the players and there are legendary house session tapes featuring her on piano.

Recently she recorded with Natalie MacMaster, on "My Roots Are Showing", and with Dave MacIsaac, on "From The Archives". The unique stylings she brought to this music in the 50's remain as her trademark sound. Mary Jessie always brings out the best in a player and her name is associated with the finest of piano playing.

Cape Breton Piano Accompaniment

When Buddy MacMaster played his first dance in Troy he was not accompanied by the piano, but by another fiddler, teaming up with Vincent MacMaster to create enough volume to sustain the dancers through the night. The piano had only recently been introduced to Cape Breton music. The pump organ preceded the piano by more than thirty years and it was on this instrument that many of Cape Breton's players started out.

The pump organ could be used to imitate the sounds of the pipes and the pumping of the pedals would create a gentle syncopation and lift for the music. The droning, sustaining quality of the instrument also allowed the pump organ player to use the right hand for melody playing while keeping the fiddler accompanied with the left. The primitive techniques developed on this parlour instrument are the foundation of today's Cape Breton piano accompaniment style.

By the 1930's, upright pianos began to replace the pump organ and eventually became so popular that they arrived on the east coast by the trainload. The upright piano was perfectly suited to the front parlours of the day. The wooden flooring, lime plaster and wainscoting of Inverness county homes would enhance the already rich tones of these instruments. Pianos could be ordered through the Eaton's catalogue and popular brand names included Mason & Risch, Bell, Nordheimer and Sherlock Manning. The most prized of the uprights was the Heintzman and one is featured on several tracks of this recording.

Although there were a few guitar players, the upright piano was quickly adopted as the main accompaniment instrument for Cape Breton fiddle music. Early recording pioneers include Dan Sullivan, Betty Maillet of The Inverness Serenaders and Bess Siddall MacDonald of Antigonish, who recorded on the first 78 rpms of the Celtic label in 1936. As the tradition evolved, each new player brought something unique and individual to the style. Today there are as many styles as there are players and the piano is also recognized as a melody instrument in its own right.

This recording features players from throughout Buddy MacMaster's career, spanning almost the entire history of Cape Breton piano accompaniment. Although they all have different styles, most of these players have at least one thing in common: they've played at Glencoe with Buddy MacMaster!

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