It is impossible to say something complimentary about the talents and creativity of Jana Jae that has not already been said and recognized. Recognized and referred to often as "The girl with the blue fiddle", from her 100 plus appearances on Hee Haw, Jana Jae’s success is the result of hard work perfecting raw talent. Like a Stradivarius violin, Jana Jae's life is one of craftsmanship, hard work, training, trial and triumph. All these unique and profound qualities is the life symphony of the "Queen of the Country Fiddle".
Musical talent runs through the family this little gal was welcomed into the world in Great Falls, Montana. Her father, an Air Force member meant home was ALL over, from New York to Oklahoma. Her maternal grandparents were wheat farmers, and the Dust Bowl moved them to Idaho.
Jana's parents studied at the famed Juilliard School of Music, New York City, and Jana was introduced to the classical study of the violin, on a 1/8 sized instrument, at the age of two. Then, thanks to the direction and inspiration of her grandfather, an accomplished champion fiddler in his own right, Jana also learned the fundamentals and love of playing by ear by her fourth birthday from her grandfather. Attending the National Old Time Fiddler Contest while very young, Jae remembers telling her Mom, “It’s Bluegrass, and I love it.”
After her parents divorced, when Jana was nine, she and her mother moved to Idaho to live with her grandparents. Jae then grew up with her mother in Colorado and Idaho, gaining musical experience playing in school orchestras and talent contests. She virtually grew up jamming with and learning from some of the best in the business while living in western Idaho, not far from Weiser, the site of the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest. Jana honed her skill of fiddling into a fine art and won the Ladies National Championship several times.
Jana Jae continued her classical training, winning scholarships to Interlochen and the International String Congress. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in music and studied abroad at the Vienna Academy of Music. She taught music for several years until she felt inspired to take her unique blend of music on the road.
While so many young musicians choose one path or the other as far as violin or fiddle, Jae opted to embrace both. Regardless of the time and energy spent developing her violin skills, Jae devoted an equal amount of time ‘fiddling around’ with ear training, jamming and learning Traditional and Bluegrass music. With a fearless attitude for exploration, one of Jae's most unique characteristics, Jae’s musical world has never defined as violin over fiddle, Jana simply poured her heart into the instrument, creating wondorous music which emenated from the depths of her soul.
In 1967 Jana married and moved to Redding, California with her new husband. Jana was teaching at the college, as well as the elementary schools and raising two children. Even though Jana divorced in 1970 she somehow, as most musicians do, found the time to start her own Bluegrass band and resumed her musical career. Her talent and hard work payed off with her winning national fiddle championships in 1973 and 1974. In 1974, while playing in a Bluegrass band, she was heard by Buck Owens.
It just so happened that Buck Owens was performing two shows at the college, and Jana was taken backstage where Buck said, “I hear you play the fiddle. During the second show, come on stage and play Orange Blossom Special with us.” Of course Jana was thrilled with the opportunity, and she and Don Rich set the stage on fire that night with a connection that was captivating for everyone. When, in 1975, Don Rich died tragically in a motorcycle accident, she replaced him in Owens’ Buckaroos and regularly played with them on tour and on Hee Haw. Jae becoming a Buckaroo meant she was not only the first female band member of the Buckaroos, but also a tremendous recognition of the fact that she was an equal to any player in one of the hottest bands in Country music.
As a Buckaroo, Jana was part of the house band for the wildly successful television program Hee Haw. Up until Hee Haw, Jae’s performance instrument had been a beloved 18th century acoustic violin built in Milan, Italy. Feeling that she needed an instrument more befitting the show’s image, producers at Hee Haw approached Jae about using a blue electric fiddle for her then appearances as one of the team performers of Hee Haw. Although originally apprehensive, her reluctance subsided when the fan mail started piling up, much of it simply addressed to “The Girl with the Blue Fiddle.” Just like the Buckaroo’s signature red, white and blue guitars, that blue fiddle became synonymous with Jana’s style and she still brings it out for Country numbers at her shows.
According to Jana she has, "So many many memories of her appearances on Hee Haw. 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, ww had a blast! The fiddle group jams were really a fovorite memory too-- so much fun!"
Jana Jae and three other originals cast members Lulu Roman, Misty Rowe of the variety show HEE HAW have also taken to stages across North America to celebrate the historic TV, bringing a touch of ‘Kornfield Kounty’ to fans nationwide to a touring production entitled "Kornfield Friends". Irlene Mandrell, Diana Goodman and T. Graham Brown also appear regularly on the show as well as special guests from time to including Vince Gill. . While the Kornfield Friends' live performances were interfered with by the COVID pandemic they are now returning and the schedule for the shows can be found on their website Kornfieldfriends.com .
In 1979, Jae struck out on her own, putting together a touring band called Hotwire. In addition to performing and touring with Hotwire, Jae became a highly sought after guest musician for both the road and in-studio, playing with notable Country artists like Bobby Bare, Mel Tillis, Ricky Skaggs, Chet Atkins, Ray Stevens, Asleep at the Wheel, Roy Clark, The Oakridge Boys and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Jae has consistently proved her ability to cross over into other genres and has earned a reputation and large international following performing at such renowned events as the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Wembley Festival in England, the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the outdoor theatre "Aspecta" in Japan, as well as soloing for many orchestral symphonies including the Tulsa Philharmonic, Midland-Odessa, Houston Pops and Sacramento Symphony. She has toured Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Africa, Brazil and continues to perform abroad when the world is not suffering the effects of a global pandemic.
Jae is also a well deserved inductee into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, thw Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, hte National Western Swing Hall of Fame, the Idaho Hall of Fame, the Mid-America Old Timw Fiddler's Hall of Fame and was the recipient of thw Oklahoma Governor's Arts Award.
Eventually at urging of her booking agent Jim Halsey, Jae moved from California and resettled in Tulsa, which allowed her to take advantage of Oklahoma’s central geography for touring and helping out with a regular spot on the Tulsa Opry stage. Once again Jana also slipped back into her role of mentor and teacher as well. After settling in, Jae found and fell in love with a property near Grove, where she felt an instant connection with the place. Later conversation with her mother she learned her new home was close to where her grandparents had courted years before her birth.
As Jana explains, "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!"
Continuing to perform internationally, the renowned fiddler now also works closely with Grand Lake Festivals, Inc., putting on three annual musical events each summer, the American Heritage Music Festival, Cajun Festival and the Jana Jae Fiddle Camp. Her own annual fiddle camp and fiddle festival in Grove Oklahoma is a family affair and is open to all musicians, all age groups with a wide variety of not only competitions but individual and group sessions and workshops being available for musicians of all levels to partake in. These traditional music events help encourage players of all ages and skill levels by keeping alive the fiddling contest, an American tradition that was so pivotal in Jae's own musical journey.
Being asked if Country music was her favourtie genre, Jana responds, " 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 is 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!"
Jana is a consummate performer and despite her petite 5’ 3 1/2″ size, is a powerful whirlwind on stage. Her pure, clear voice, showmanship, down-home friendly sense of humor and natural communication with any audience combine for a dynamite concert. Her special talents have enriched us all in the world of music.
Jana has also built a solid solo career, drawing upon her diverse musical background. Her one-of-a-kind style blends Country fiddling, Western Swing, Bluegrass, Pop and the classics, producing thrilling performances and critical acclaim. This is one musical genius wherein the depths of her talents make her the master of both the fiddle and violin across multiple genres.
Summing up her life and career in music Jana has put it this way, "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!"
By Deborah Gibson