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This Kansas City Musician's 300-Year-Old Instrument Lets Him 'Feel What Came Before'

Julie Denesha
Gerald Trimble warms up for a recording session at Sound 81 Productions in Riverside, Missouri..

People often ask Kansas City musician Gerald Trimble about the instrument he plays at gigs around town with his band Jambaroque. Although it looks like a cello at first glance, players hold it between their knees, so some people call it a knee fiddle. It’s a viola da gamba.

The instruments have roots in 15th Century Moorish Spain, and there aren’t that many of them in Kansas City. Once he discovered it, Trimble says, he was smitten.

“For years I played Eastern instruments and learned all these different styles," Trimble says. "Then when I found the viola da gamba, I found an instrument that I could put all those things together. I can pluck, I can bow, I can play like a lute, I can play like a guitar, I can play like a violin like a kamancheh I can do all the things I want.”

He's now recording a new album with Jambaroque featuring a special viola da gamba he acquired last year.

In July 2018, Trimble got a call from New York dealer and luthier Christophe Landon, who said he’d found an historic instrument that just might interest him. Trimble was immediately intrigued.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Trimble and his early music group Jambaroque play 'Live in the Lobby' just before the performance of Anoushka Shankar at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in March.

“A lot of my history of my life has been finding instruments and the story of the instrument has defined not only what I was playing but what I was doing in my life," says Trimble. "It’s always a big adventure.”

This one was made in the late 1600s by Antonio Casini, a famous maker of fine instruments, in Modena, Italy.

It was found an Italian antique shop in the late 1950s by a woman named Amaryllis Fleming. The half sister of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Amaryllis Fleming was a star in her own right: a famous British cellist.

Trimble says it vibrates with more than three hundred years of history.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Golden baroque flourishes and diamond-patterned purfling decorate Trimble's viola da gamba built in the late 1600s by Antonio Casini.

“If you touch an instrument you can feel what has gone on before," says Trimble. "I’m not sure I know what the maker had for breakfast the morning he made it but I can feel that ancient tradition in that instrument.”

Decorated with inlaid wood and painted with Baroque flourishes, it matches Trimble's reputation for playing early music with an untraditional flair.

“I want people to know when I play that I’m looking forward and I can feel what came before,” he says, adding that playing on a viola da gamba helps him feel a mystical connection to the past.

“When we take wood and we take gut and we take all these living parts of the world and make it into something that makes beautiful sound it’s just a creation that explains and expresses our humanity.”

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Trimble says this instrument is opening up new worlds for him.

This particular viola da gamba, he says, is opening up new worlds to him — worlds he looks forward to sharing with audiences in Kansas City when Jambaroque's album is finished at the end of the summer and he returns to playing concerts (his next one is the Kansas City Irish Fest over Labor Day weekend).

“I would love to be that type of ambassador, where you can go out and play music and also bring together cultures," says Trimble. "And people recognize you as someone who sees those connections and can translate that into a form that touches humanity.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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