Sandy Israel’s story is an unusual one. He’s an east coast boy, born and raised in Bethesda, MD, just outside Washington, DC. He studied mathematics and philosophy at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD – the “Great Books School,” earned an MBA from Georgetown University, and worked for years as an advertising executive, first in Tokyo and then in New York City. Throughout these years, Sandy pursued music, primarily guitar, as a serious avocation.
Then fate stepped in one day in October of 1998 when Sandy wandered into a quirky music store in Greenwich Village and bought a rotten old banjo. He was instantly hooked. Banjo just fit perfectly – his hands, his personality, everything.
So despite the excitement of the big city ad biz, coming home to work on music became more and more the focus of Sandy’s day. He began practicing and studying banjo obsessively, getting better fast, and it wasn’t long before he asked his wife the question every spouse fears most: “Honey, can I be a professional banjo player?”
Needless to say, “I wanna to quit my job to pick my banjer,” did not go over well at first with his wife, Jenny, who had just given birth to their second child. But swayed by his obvious obsession, his rapid progress, and his absurd vision to make a living with the instrument Jenny finally said, “You have one year.”
By the end of that year Sandy had formed his working bluegrass band, Citigrass, and was a performing musician and banjo teacher. Soon Citigrass had become a well-known New York City act and was playing festivals, events and gigs all over the east coast. They released three albums, became the house band for Gracie Mansion (residence of the mayor of NYC) and were flown out in 2010 to play at San Francisco’s famous Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. In the meantime Sandy built up a teaching practice and methodology that won him a large body of loyal students. He became known as a foundational member of the NYC bluegrass scene.
August of 2013 brought the latest chapter in the adventure. Sandy, Jenny, three kids, and three cats packed up and moved across the country to Jenny’s childhood home, Marin County. The new homestead comes with a perfect teaching studio for Sandy. And thus is born: the Stetson Ridge Music School!