Every year, the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest pushes musical boundaries by booking diverse acts that break the mold of what listeners know as jazz music. The 2016 lineup is no exception. Soul, blues, and hip-hop artists add variety to a lengthy list of jazz heavyweights and rising stars. In spite of the seemingly vast genre gap between some of the artists, the San Francisco Bay Area’s own Dirty Cello is proof that all performers at the Summer Fest share a common respect for the jazz tradition.
Founding members, Rebecca Roudman, cello, and Jason Eckl, guitar, have both established themselves as accomplished classical musicians in the Bay Area, playing and writing for the Santa Rosa and Oakland symphonies. As proficient as they are with classical music, the couple’s true passion lies in American folk and blues traditions. In 2011, they decided to channel their creative unrest into an experimental collaboration.
“We played around with all sorts of ideas,” Eckl recalls, “but now we’ve happened upon this whole mix of blues, jazz, a little bit of bluegrass—all featuring lead cello. Hence the name Dirty Cello.”
In addition to cello and guitar, Dirty Cello features Colin Williams on bass and Anthony Petrocchi on drums. The band, however, isn’t always limited to the quartet. Following the jazz and blues tradition, the couple believes in handpicking local players to supplement the quartet’s live shows. Whether these musical mercenaries consist of a few horn players or an entire orchestra, the couple makes sure they find people who “aren’t only great players, but nice people.”
Five years after Dirty Cello’s inception, the band has traveled as far as Europe and China. After experiencing a language barrier between the audience and the stage in other countries, Eckl learned, “We have to be able to do something musically that speaks to people that don’t speak the same language.” The band members’ expressive body language and the universality of the blues help them connect with both international and American audiences.
As Bay Area natives, the band has already graced multiple San Jose music hubs, including Café Stritch and the SoFA Festival. “We feel like we owe a lot to the Bay Area,” Eckl reflects. “There are still new horizons and new things to do.”
One way Dirty Cello gives back to their audience is their sensitive approach to their set list. At the drop of a dime, they can change their set based on audience response. “It’s not about us; it’s about sharing [the experience] with the audience,” says Roudman, who recognizes the need to adapt on the fly. This concept of a “flexible set list” will be put to the test during their August 14 performance at the Jade Leaf Lounge.
Dirty Cello illustrates the breadth of musical styles that coexist in the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest. Their set promises to embrace the familiar sounds of blues and folk with an unfamiliar instrumentation. Listeners will leave saying, “I didn’t know a cello could do that!”
Article by Nick Panoutsos
Photography by Daniel Garcia
Dirty Cello will be performing at the Jade Leaf Lounge on August 14.