David Bass has been jazzing up city streets with the help of his trusty fiddle for 28 years.
Bass, who lives in Durham, stopped by Chapel Hill after his fencing practice Thursday to play in front of Julian’s on East Franklin Street for about an hour.
He taught himself to play the violin as a child, after taking drum and mandolin lessons.
He last played in an orchestra when he was in middle school.
“I’ve been playing on the streets since I was 18,” Bass said. “I’ve played in New York City and Boston, but now I’m here in North Carolina.”
Despite growing up in Ohio, Bass said he was most inspired by the Southern mountain music tradition.
“I’ve studied a handful of musicians from North Carolina, and I especially like the ones from Mount Airy,” Bass said.
He doesn’t use sheet music, preferring to improvise his performances.
“There’s written music, but if you played it you would be way off in the wrong direction,” he said. “I play by ear.”
Bass said he has an extensive collection of mountain music — six to eight gigabytes on his iPod — that he listens to for inspiration.
He said he enjoys playing on streets for a public audience because it is free, spontaneous art.
“Well, right now it’s completely free,” he said, gesturing to his empty violin case. “It would be more lucrative for me if I went back to Boston or New York — even Asheville would be pretty hip.”
But his wife attends graduate school classes in the area, and he watches his two children during the day.
He said he has not experienced any physical harassment in his almost three decades of street performing in different metropolises.
“I’m not playing in any dark alleys,” he said. “There’s usually lots of positive crowd interaction, and there’s always a certain amount of respect.”
But last year, he had a tiff with a homeless man on Franklin Street who felt Bass was invading his space to panhandle.
This sort of interaction is rare in Chapel Hill, said Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership Executive Director Meg McGurk.
“Street performers add to the environment and create a great sense of place,” she said.
“They encourage people to notice their surroundings and connect with their environment,” Young said.
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