It was a fluke that The Bailsmen found themselves performing in Boone a year ago.
The very talented hot jazz and Gypsy swing group only ventures out of their home base of Brooklyn, N.Y., about one month a year as they sweep through the Midwest and Southeast on their way to New Orleans. The Bailsmen’s show at Lost Province last April was booked off the cuff as a bit of a gas money gig to help them on their journey.
And yet, the concert turned out to be a blast for all who attended and word about the group quickly spread. Something clicked that night, and the groove drew in all that were within earshot. Almost immediately, the notion was hatched to try and get them back again in the future.
Now, almost one year later to the day on April 6, The Bailsmen make their highly-anticipated return to Boone. For more information on their gig stay tuned to our Nightlife Listings page 13.
The Bailsmen consists of Gabriel Yonkler on saxophones, Charlie Castelluzzo on guitar, Brandon Vetrano on guitar and Abe Pollack on bass.
Both Vetrano and Yonkler are New York City natives, while Castelluzzo found his way to the Big Apple from San Diego and Pollack is from Seattle.
“I relocated to New York City in 2001 because the music scene is great there and I wanted to be around other musicians,” Pollack said. “I met these guys by playing out and following the music that I like to play. We all gravitated to the same places and the same jam sessions. I didn’t start playing hot jazz and Gypsy swing, however, until about 2012. Before that, I was into music by Doc Watson and the fiddle tune tradition. But what I think I liked about Gypsy swing and traditional jazz was that it has a lot of similarities to American roots music. Gypsy jazz kind of bridges the gap between that music and the jazz that most musicians learn when they are starting out. Bebop and post-bebop jazz, Gypsy jazz and traditional jazz have many of the same songs and picking styles that people from the Carolinas can appreciate.”
Pollack first heard the music of our late and local music hero Doc Watson while he still lived in Seattle.
“My best friend’s dad when I was growing up was also my biology teacher in school, and he was a banjo player,” Pollack said. “He went to all of these old-time music jam sessions in Seattle and he would also go to the Northwest Folklife Festival held every Memorial Day. So, it was from him that I heard Doc Watson.”
Once Pollack began to head in the Gypsy jazz path, he studied the music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and their Hot Club de France band, which brought Gypsy jazz to the world in the 1930s and 1940s.
“I mostly studied Django’s recordings and how heavy that bass playing is,” Pollack said. “They do a lot of the ‘two-feel’ beat, which is similar to bluegrass music, playing on the one and three beats and they are really pulling hard on the strings to give a lot of space for the multiple guitars. Around that same time period, Walter Page, the bassist for the Count Basie Orchestra, started to do a lot more walking bass lines, which really drives the music forward and gives the soloist a bigger cushion to sit on. While we do play the older ‘two-feel’ sound, I think music listeners today are more accustomed to hearing walking bass lines, so I try to play both.”
Just like anyone else who does it, moving to New York City and surviving there can be a daunting task.
“It is not easy, but it’s fun,” Pollack said about life in NYC. “There are great musicians based there so you are always coming across musicians that you idolize. And, there are always people there that are better than you, so it is kind of humbling. But it also gives you the chance to learn a lot about music. We play every Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. at a club called Dante’s in Greenwich Village (established in 1915 and located at 79 McDougal St.) and every Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Belfry’s (222 East 14st St.). Dante’s is like our home base where we get to work on a lot of music. We have been there for about three years now and it is a fun room. A lot of people from out of town come there so it is a fun place to visit.”
The members of The Bailsmen are enjoying their monthlong late winter/spring tour and they hope to make the High Country a part of their itinerary for years to come.
“Asheville, New Orleans and Blacksburg are good cities for us, and I hate to pander, but I really like playing in your area in the mountains,” Pollack said. “The people who like fiddle music and roots music really like what we do, so we really enjoy playing there. Boone will be one of our last stops before we head home. Everyone there loves the history of American music, so this will be a lot of fun.”