The reader replied:
Hi Paul, thanks for your quick reply.
I asked Philippe about the tunnel chord passage, not there, so it looks like it isn't a zither type.
Attaching two photos.
First of the banjo itself.
Second of the Nowak Family Band. Looks like Polish origin, played polka(?) music in Germany. The banjo in the photo is clearly not the one Philippe inherited. His grandfather is the accordion player.
Interesting mystery, right?
philppes six string banjo.jpg [ 54.57 KiB | Viewed 16244 times ]
Nowak Family Band.jpg [ 54.83 KiB | Viewed 16243 times ]
Thanks for the photos. BOTH banjos are European construction. The one in Philippe's possession now is a later, more advanced design, not far different from Deering's "Boston" line of banjos - of which Keith Urban plays the 6-string. It also seems to have a tone ring, plus the mother of pearl indicates that it was probably a more expensive instrument. In addition, mother-of-pearl on the fretboard is almost always an indicator that the banjo was made specifically for jazz.
The one in the photo of the jazz band is made the same way early 1900s zither banjos were, with all the clamps over the rim of the resonator. As far as I can tell the vast majority of this sort of banjo that has survived were 5-strings, but it's nice to see a 6-string example.
Most Americans would see the accordion and violin and wonder how this could possibly be in a Jazz band. But both instruments were ubiquitous in all kinds of German popular music in those days. What "cinches" it is the unfortunately racist logo on the drum head. Such graphics were a sort of "code" for Jazz in Germany in those days. If you want to know more about that side of prewar German culture, check out the movie "Swing Kids."
Thanks for sharing the photos and I hope Philippe's banjo is being put to good use.