Grisman And Friends Pay Homage To Late Mentor

Mike Marshall, Darol Anger help form 12-piece mando-orchestra to celebrate Rudy Cipolla.

BERKELEY, Calif. — Mandolinist David Grisman called on fellow acoustic virtuosos to celebrate the music of their mutual mentor, Rudy Cipolla, Tuesday evening.

Cipolla, an esteemed mandolin player whose career stretched back to the 1930s, died in January at age 99. The show was a benefit for Cipolla's family.

"Throughout the years, all the mandolin players in the area — and even those who came and visited — got to know Rudy and hang out, rehearse with him and play gigs with him," Grisman said from the stage of the Freight & Salvage listening room/coffeehouse. "Everything Rudy wrote ... was all from another place, another era, and wonderfully encapsulated in beautiful melodies that came pouring out of this man."

Some of the San Francisco Bay Area's finest mandolin players — including Darol Anger (violin, mandolin), Mike Marshall (mandolin, mandocello, violin), Radim Zenkl and Bob Bruen, plus David Grisman Quartet members Enrique Coria, Matt Eakle and Jim Kerwin and flutist Sherry Crawford, played tunes of their own, then joined Grisman as part of a 12-piece "Rudy Cipolla Orchestra" to perform some of Cipolla's original compositions.

Cipolla, who ran a small shop, the Book Nook, on Judah Street in San Francisco, dedicated each song he wrote — including multiple arrangements for duos, trios and orchestras — to a friend. He hosted all-night jam sessions with his young disciples and was honored in 1984 by the city of San Francisco as a local folk hero and for his work helping the needy.

The musicians played short sets of their own material to begin the show. Expatriated Czech mandolinist Zenkl played "Revival" and "Twin Peaks," strumming bluesy, then Celtic melodies, over fast rhythms.

Marshall and Anger played a few songs as a duo, opening with "The Gator Strut," with Marshall on mandocello and Anger on fiddle. Both switched off laying down the groove then locking in on the melodies.

Both played fiddle on "Death by Triple Fiddle," which Marshall and friends played at the Grammy Awards in February.

Paying Tribute With 'Challenging' Performances

Grisman and his former bandmates Marshall and Anger took up mandolins for Grisman's "Ricochet," then welcomed current DGQ players Matt Eakle (flute), Jim Kerwin (bass) and Coria (classical guitar) to the stage.

The group of DGQ all-stars played the exotic "16/16" (RealAudio excerpt of Grisman/Jerry Garcia version), from the band's 1976 debut, then Marshall picked up the mandocello for "Opus 38." Kerwin and Grisman laid down a stomp, then the band quieted down, allowing individual players to bubble up out of the noodling jam. The tune melted into an avant-garde space before the band jumped back into the main melody line.

"It was a little challenging," Jeremy Pollock, 25, of Berkeley, said. "They're so fast and precise, and they're still so clear and graceful. It's pretty impressive music — a lot of musicianship."

Grisman and Coria began the second set with "The Argentine Trio," a tune from the DGQ's upcoming album, dedicated to Cipolla's combo, which had such songs as "Baja del Sol de Andalucia" (RealAudio excerpt) on the radio in the early 1930s.

Coria picked chords while Grisman played lead, then Coria whistled a melancholy, Latin-flavored melody which Grisman matched on mandolin.

'All Rudy Music' Closes Show

"From here on out, it's gonna be all Rudy music," Grisman told the crowd.

Radim played Cipolla's "Of Here and There" solo, picking fast, multilayered melodies. Grisman and Marshall performed "A Study for the Mandolin," which Cipolla possibly wrote for a student. Bruen and Anger joined in a multimandolin "Chinese Carousel," a slow, Eastern-flavored song.

The group expanded to a 12-piece "Rudy Cipolla Orchestra," adding mandolinists Zenkl and the Modern Mandolin Quartet's Dana Rath, flutists Eakle and Crawford, violinists Laurie Goren and Brian Price, Coria and Kerwin — for a total of two flutes, guitar, bass, two violins and a six-piece mando section.

The mandolins played romantic, Italian-flavored flutters while the flutes and violins played high-pitched melodies and countermelodies. Kerwin bowed his bass on "Canto Antiquo" as the group swelled through dramatic crescendo and decrescendo.

"La Chivetta," which Cipolla once played with the Berkeley Symphony, started slow, then picked up into Spanish rhythms, with abrupt rests and time changes. The encore, a polka, featured ascending flute parts reminiscent of 1930s Disney film scores.