Itinerant cello player serenades the streets of Seattle
Cello music kicks and wails along University Avenue.
Lots of baroque. Lots of jazz. Very kick-ass Led Zeppelinish.Amplified along the sidewalk.
Sprinkled with tidbits that sound like flamenco guitar, mandolin madrigals, heavy metal, Quentin Tarentino soundtracks and Jethro Tull passages.
Almost all original.
A much wider range of styles, passion and skills possessed by most street musicians.
Brendan Smith's cello sticks out.
Smith plays hard, passionately. His nimble, weather-beaten fingers can downshift from rockin' overdrive to delicate chamber music within seconds. He sits on a tiny amplifier that lets his cello win out over the traffic noise.
The nearby save-the-whales petitioner, Sophi Hirsch, can't stop grooving to Smith even when she tries to persuade passers-by in Seattle's U District to sign her paperwork.
A fast-walking woman removes the cell phone from her ear and points it at Smith sitting on his tiny amplifier -- sharing his music with her caller as she cruises by. People walk up to him as fans, telling him they've enjoyed his music.
Smith, 32, is a street musician by choice. Not by bad luck. It's just his passion. His chosen line of work.
"It took me almost 10 years to come in grips with that," he says.
It took that long for Smith to acknowledge that there is no shame in avoiding working for someone at a 9-to-5 job in order to snuggle up with his muse.
Every day -- rainy, sunny, blustery, sometimes in the snow -- he leaves his small Ballard apartment and goes somewhere in Seattle with his slightly chipped Yamaha cello to play on the streets. He follows no pattern, just going to wherever he feels like.
"I like to be a pleasant surprise to people," he says.
Occasionally, he plays in the University District neighborhood of student Melissa Gipson "I'll just wake up to it, and it's gorgeous," she says.
He puts his cello out to collect bills and coins -- barely making enough to make a living. He plays mostly what he has written himself -- his heart and mind going somewhere that brings him joy.
"I can't really describe it. You're asking me to open up about the realm of the intangible," Smith answers.
More tangible to Smith is his connection with his listeners. "I think of it as casting a line out -- seeing I can literally bring changes to people's expressions," he says.
Smith has played cello since elementary school in Bellevue. He just fell in love with the many different sounds that a cello can make -- along with the sophistication and emotional range of classical music.
"The first time I dialed it in on the radio, it was like seeing God for the first time. It was moving. … A piece that was written 300 years ago and can impact people today, that's magic to me," Smith recalls.
Smith kept with the cello through high school -- taking his last lessons while in high school orchestra. In high school, he took up drums as well, building a parallel life as a freelance drummer for any band needing one.
He went to welding school. Got his welding certificate. Spent a few years in the 9-to-5 world, and decided: No more of that. "I'm here on this Earth for one purpose only -- and that's to be a musician."
Sometime through quick inspiration, sometimes through tedious brain work, he writes his material -- enough for one self-produced CD available through his e-mail address as email@example.com. He hopes to records a second CD this summer.
Smith ends his University Avenue performance with a complicated funky jazz piece.
"Recognize it," he asks a listener.
"No," the listener replies.
"It's' Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' the Judy Garland song. I just mix it all in there and jam to it."