Best known for his composition, "Ashokan Farewell," the Grammy-winning and Emmy-nominated theme song of Ken Burns' PBS documentary series, The Civil War, Jay Ungar has performed and recorded with mid-'60s rock band, Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, the Putnam Country String Band, Fiddle Fever, the David Bromberg Band, and in duos with his wife, Molly Mason, and his ex-wife, Lyn Hardy. The founder of the Fiddle & Dance Workshop at Ashokan, a Catskill Mountain camp, in 1980, Ungar has spearheaded the revival in traditional string band music and dance.
The son of immigrant parents, Ungar grew up listening to traditional Hungarian and Macedonian music. Starting violin lessons at the age of seven, Ungar was soon playing by ear and writing his own melodies. While attending the High School of Music and Art, he was introduced, by friends, to bluegrass and traditional folk music.
In the early '60s, Ungar traveled to North Carolina and Tennessee in search of old timey folk musicians. Upon his return, he became involved with the roots music community in Greenwich Village. A founding member of Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, Ungar temporarily left the band before they recorded their first album which included a minor hit, "Good Old Rock and Roll," in 1969. He rejoined the group for their second album, Albion Doowah. In the mid-'70s, Ungar was a member of the David Bromberg Band, a group dubbed, "The World's first folk orchestra." Between 1980 and 1984, Ungar played with Fiddle Fever, an eclectic string band that also included fiddler Matt Glaser, fiddle and viola player Evan Stover, acoustic guitarist Russ Barenberg and acoustic bassist Molly Mason. Although he worked in a duo with his then-wife Lyn Hardy, following Fiddle Fever's disbanding, the marriage fell apart with Ungar going on to work in a duo with Mason. Ungar and Mason were married in 1991.
In addition to his work on the soundtrack of Ken Burns' Civil War, Ungar has composed and performed on the soundtracks of Burns' documentaries including Baseball, The West, Thomas Jefferson, and Lewis & Clark. Ungar's fiddling was also heard on the soundtracks of films Brother's Keeper and Legends of the Fall. Ungar and Mason have made numerous appearances on Garrison Keillor's National Public Radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. In 1992, Ungar and Mason accompanied vocalist Thomas Hampson on an album-length tribute to the songs of Stephen Foster, American Dreamer. Harvest Home: Music for All Seasons followed in 1999. ~ Craig Harris