BY MATT MUNOZ Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Oakland music collective the California Honeydrops has spent more than four years incorporating the traditions of blues, gospel, New Orleans jazz and early R&B into its critically acclaimed and innovative shows.
After getting its start performing in gritty Bay Area subway stations, the band has toured Europe six times and spread its "honey" across the U.S., including a rare Bakersfield stop Wednesday at B Ryder's.
Leading the band is Warsaw-born trumpeter Lech Wierzynski, who began playing blues and jazz as a teen after moving to Washington, D.C. After studying trumpet with Marcus Belgrave (who performed with Ray Charles), Wierzynski continued his career, moving to Oakland, honing his craft with blues and roots music legends Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks and Jackie Payne.
Currently joining Wierzynski on tour is saxophonist Johnny Bones, drummer Ben Malament, bassist Doug Stuart, and keyboardist Charles Hickox. The group's latest CD, titled "Honey Drops Live," effectively brings to life their energetic stage shows and engaging musicality.
Wierzynski discussed music and the band via email in advance of Wednesday's show, which will also feature Bakersfield soul jazz-fusion group Soulajar.
How many instruments do you play?
On stage: guitar, trumpet, tambourine, and piano on rare occasions. At home, I'll play anything (badly).
What drew you to blues and roots-oriented American music?
I was exposed to it early on and as time has passed it's been my favorite. My dad is big into Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, stuff like that. So we had that in the car. But then I added on to that. In college I was introduced to more of the Appalachian side of American music like string bands and bluegrass, as well as some of that real early blues and field recordings, and jug bands. When I got to the Bay Area, I got deeper into R&B, soul and old style jazz. I've been a fan of all New Orleans music as long as I can remember.
When you formed the California Honeydrops was the original concept always about blending so many eclectic styles?
The band was originally formed just for fun, so I could have an outlet to play some country blues guitar. But we just started playing anything that was fun, and that also got us tips at the BART station.
Was it easy to find the right musicians to fit your vision?
I have an overall direction, but the vision changes with the players.
Have you been back to perform in Poland since the group's formation?
Yes, we've toured Poland three times. It's always good to go home. The Polish audience encourages us to get in touch with the dark, tortured side of our souls and music.
A lot of your style is influenced by New Orleans. How are you received when you perform there?
We love New Orleans-style music. But then again almost all of American music can be traced back there. We played there during the big jazz fest and the welcome was just amazing. Some people didn't believe we were from California.
What's the best compliment you received after one of your live performances?
People tell us all the time that our music makes them happy, it makes them dance, or it was a religious experience. People come up to us and say, "Hey I've had a rough week and this just really made my day." That's what it's all about, and why we do it: to give people a space to relax, have a great time dancing, fall in love, make babies. A lot of people that meet at our shows and stay together -- we know because we play their weddings. We don't keep tabs on Honeydrops conceptions, but I'm sure there are a few.
What can Bakersfield expect when you hit the stage?
A bunch of dudes having fun and bringing some good funky, fun, fresh music to whoever wants it or needs it. California Honeydrops and Soulajar
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: B Ryder's, 7401 White Lane
Admission: $10, advance; $12, day of show
Information: 397-7304 or numbskullshows.com