Why You Should Care: Banjo player Tray Wellington is quickly turning heads with his deft, broad-ranging creativity as both a player and composer. A founding member of the award-winning Cane Mill Road, Wellington has appeared with the group at high-profile festivals such Grey Fox, Merlefest and Wide Open Bluegrass, while recording several well-received albums — and is now stepping out on his own. In 2019, Cane Mill Road earned the IBMA’s Momentum Band of the Year trophy, while Tray put an exclamation mark on his time with the group when he earned a Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year award. Early in 2020, while continuing to work toward a degree in East Tennessee State University’s renowned Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music program, he released his solo debut, an EP titled Unchained Thoughts that featured four original compositions — and, in a demonstration of his stylistic breadth, versions of banjo favorite “Nashville Skyline Rag” and bebop jazz legend Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.”
For his third Mountain Home release, Tray Wellington returns to the jazz songbook that he first explored on his self-released 2020 EP, Uncaged Thoughts, with a cover of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s bebop classic, “Ornithology.” This time, the award-winning banjo player offers his unique take on a 21st century classic in the making in trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s popular “Strasbourg / St. Denis” — and though he’s young, Wellington sets the pace for a stellar group of musicians (guitarist Jon Stickley and his Trio bandmate Lyndsay Pruett on violin, mandolin player Wayne Benson and bassist Kevin Kehrberg) as they work their way through the tune’s irresistible theme before diving into a series of inspired improvisations. The result is a tribute to Hargrove’s inspiration that recalls the sound of Wellington’s jazz-leaning predecessors like Bela Fleck and Scott Vestal even as it displays a strong dose of his own creativity.
“As a longtime jazz fan,” Wellington notes, “I see Roy Hargrove as a staple, and a legend in the music. I knew from the first time I heard this song that I wanted to record it some day, and with this crew playing on the session, I knew this would be the perfect time to do it!"
About Tray Wellington
Growing up in western North Carolina’s Ashe County, Trajan “Tray” Wellington heard a lot of music — and from the first time he heard the banjo as a young teen, he was, he says, “hooked.” Within a few years, he had joined with a few friends to form Cane Mill Road, an acclaimed band of youngsters whose wide-ranging brand of bluegrass quickly found favor with an equally wide-ranging audience. By the end of 2019, the quartet had released three well-received albums, recorded with bluegrass and Americana star Jim Lauderdale, and performed at festivals across the country, including Grey Fox, Merlefest and the IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass, culminating in a 2019 IBMA Momentum Band of the Year award — and, for Tray, individual recognition as an IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year.
With growing acclaim for his talent and a lengthening list of his own, individual accomplishments — including the release of his debut solo EP; leading workshops at Merlefest and Grey Fox; a coveted position as an assistant at banjo master Bela Fleck’s Blue Ridge Banjo Camp; a cover story interview in Banjo Newsletter; and an invitation to Mike Marshall’s prestigious Acoustic Music Seminar — Wellington decided to blaze his own musical and professional trail, showcasing with the Tray Wellington Band at the IBMA’s virtual World of Bluegrass in the fall of 2020. He graduates from East Tennessee State University in early 2021.