2006-01-26 / News

Islander finds calling in Celtic rhythms

Fiddler Jack Wright keeps the spirit alive
By Susan Carroll

Jack Wright and his fiddle. Jack Wright and his fiddle. When Jack Wright traveled to Ireland in the early 1980s he returned with more than just vacation memories: the trip inspired his interest in traditional Irish music, a genre he’s been playing ever since.

Central to the sound is the fiddle, also known as a violin. While Wright had been involved with music most of his life, the instrument was new to him — and he knew it was a difficult one to master. He started with lessons and after a few months, ventured out on his own, practicing daily.

With his skills honed, Wright sought out other musicians in the state who shared his passion for Celtic tunes. A resident of Westerly then, he joined a band and occasionally performed at events but yearned to immerse himself deeper into the Irish music scene.

After a few years, he moved to the Narragansett Bay area, where he found the growing number of versatile, skilled musicians he had been seeking. He started playing regularly at local events and today performs with about six musicians in several different combinations, depending on the occasion.

Wright and his bandmates play several times a month at weddings, anniversaries, wakes, private parties — wherever people want to infuse the sounds of traditional Irish music.

For Wright, the continued bookings represent validation of his talent and of the music he loves so deeply. “It’s nice to know that people like our music, like what we’re doing,” says Wright, who notes that interest peaks around St. Patrick’s Day, particularly in the Newport area.

Traditional Irish sessions — which Wright defines as an informal gathering of musicians of various levels of experience and ability — provide another outlet for Wright to perform regularly. He attends one or two sessions a week at pubs located anywhere from Mystic, Conn., to Fall River, Mass. “Sessions are a great way for you to hear what other musicians are playing, improve your skills and socialize,” explains Wright.

Despite his regular gigs, Wright says he still needs to practice the fiddle every day. He’s also taken up other Irish musical instruments over the years on which he must stay sharp as well, including the button accordion, tin whistle, Scottish small pipes and harmonica.

Wright’s traditional repertoire remains true to the music that goes back generations, passing, says Wright, from one musician to another. “You pick up tunes at sessions or from recordings. That’s how the music spreads.”

And Wright’s happy to take part in the evolution. “I’ve grown musically every year,” says Wright.

Another thing that’s grown, says Wright, is peoples’ interest in traditional Irish music, and he credits the musical show Riverdance with the increased awareness.

“Today, there is much greater public attention to the music and a lot more players involved,” says Wright, including several in Jamestown.

Wright, 57, plans to continue playing and performing as long as he’s healthy. “As people age, we tend to get weaker in a lot of areas. But in music, you just get stronger” says Wright. “You just have to stay with it.”

Improvement requires a lot of hard work and for Wright, his fiddle playing is just a sideline. A part owner of a business, Wright’s other demands compete for his time but he’s committed to the sound that piqued his interest more than two decades ago.

Wright moved to Jamestown 12 years ago. He hosts a session monthly at the Celtica Pub on Long Wharf in Newport. The next event will be held at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11.

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