One of the difficulties of a musician's life is that only his peers are capable of judging who is at the top of his field, at least in regards to things like technique and arranging skills; unfortunately there just are not enough of those peers to make for great record sales. This is especially true in an area like fingerpicking, where even the simplest tricks can dazzle an unsophisticated audience, while at the same time even highly skilled professionals may not fully comprehend a piece's difficulty without actually trying to play it.
As a result, quite a few of the best players are unknown as such, except to each other. It may come as a surprise that, while there are competitive feelings ('that bastard - I wish I had thought of that...'), there is a great camaraderie amongst fingerpickers. Some of the very best times on the road have been hanging out with the other cats who really get the level of shoptalk to what we've all been trying to do.
All of which is to encourage you, dear reader/listener, in the belief (which happens to be true) that you have picked up on that genuine article - an artist highly esteemed by his fellows. But I do not want to belabor the 'musician's musician' angle too much because it would be a grave injustice to Ton's music to give the impression that only the initiate can understand it. The whole point of mastering an instrument is to communicate musically, and while it may give guitarists particular pleasure to dissect or analyze the Van Bergeyk style, what really stands out about Ton's playing is his feeling and directness. You can always feel how much joy Ton takes from playing, whether it is the sly drollery of a tune like From Soup To Nuts, the overt emotion of Moonlight serenade or the rambunctious swing of Mustard Swing. Stefan Grossman once postulated that Ton's nonprofessional status at the time of these recordings might be connected with the remarkable freshness of his playing. Certainly it could be true that not repeating his arrangements over and over each work night is a factor. In any case, Ton is certainly a guy who plays for the fun of it in every sense. His great technical abilities enable him to dance gaily through passages that would sound labored in other hands.
Another thing that should make Ton's playing appealing from the listener's standpoint is the extraordinary range of different musical styles he presents. Blues, ragtime, novelty tunes, pop swing tunes and Jelly Roll Morton all receive exemplary treatment. Ton is also effective further off the beaten track, as shown by his handling of Zither Melodies on this recording. For all his wide-ranging interests, he certainly presents us with a unified vision and style. A point that I think is important in understanding the musicality of Ton's playing is that he really gets inside of whatever style he's working with. For instance, nobody I've ever heard can play in the style of the great blues/ ragtime/jazz pioneer Blind Blake as well as Ton. This is not just a question of being an accurate imitator - though he has figured out things about Blake's technique that as far as I know, no one else has - but of having further ability. Ton is able to come up with his own ideas that fit perfectly in the context of Blake's - he hasn't so much learned the other man's style as entered into it.
All of his bluesy stuff shows not just his understanding of the playing and thinking of Blind Blake, Tampa Red, Willie Walker, Bill Broonzy, etc., but also his ability to live and breathe in that musical context.– Duck Baker