Lech Wierzynski, leader of the Bay Area-based The California Honeydrops, said his group could start a party in the street before a show, or start in the show’s venue and continue out to the streets. But for Lech, the party started in Washington, D.C.
The vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who started learning music at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School when it was still in North Bethesda, said he used to play gigs and catch shows around D.C. as a teenager.
He said he and his friends used to go to Twins Lounge, now operating as Twins Jazz on U Street, in its old location at 14th and Colorado Avenue, Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Sunday night jam session in Southwest, D.C. and HR-57 in Northeast, which is now closed.
“We used to make the rounds and try to learn stuff from people,” Wierzynski said. During that time he and his friends would see musicians like Butch Warren, the Washington, D.C.-native and bassist in Thelonius Monk’s band, trumpeter Olivier Brown and saxophonist Billy Smith.
“He had a very lyrical style,” Wierzynski said about Smith. “And for some kids growing up and were trying to learn it was nice to hear someone play something that was real simple that we could understand….He meant a lot to us.”
Another person who meant a lot to Wierzynski was his band director at St. Andrews, Vince McCool, who he said was the first working musician that he knew.
“He always told us to keep things simple. Keep it soulful and simple,” Wierzynski said. “He always encouraging us not to get too carried away with trying to play many notes. He was just like play less notes and make them mean something rather than playing a lot of notes. And honestly that’s something that’s really stuck with me.”
The California Honeydrops have played in Washington, D.C. a few times before, the last time being almost two years ago. Wierzynski said that it’s always special when he gets to come back to his musical roots.
“It’s great. I’ll get to see my band director from school and he’s probably going to jump up there and play with us, so it’s really nice,” Wierzynski said. “And I have a little family that lives out there now, too, so it’ll be a good feeling.
“I’ve picked up a lot of different musical influences along the way, having moved around a lot, and not really being from any one particular place, but D.C. has definitely a special place in my heart and it’s definitely the place where I really started to play music. So, for that, I’m always going to be indebted to it.”
This time around they’re playing Gypsy Sally’s on Sunday, Oct. 11, on the heels of the release of their latest album, A River’s Invitation, which was released in September with Tubtone Records.
The record, named after the title track, a cover of Percy Mayfield’s 1963 single “River’s Invitation,” finds the Honeydrops taking their organic sound, developed out of the group’s days busking at different Bay Area Rapid Transit stations, and “diving into a whole ‘nother realm of [their] music.”
“But we still kind of remember and we still have big roots in blues and rhythm and blues and stuff like that,” Wierzynski said. “So we took [“River’s Invitation”] and, I feel like, we did a lot with it that’s different than what’s been done with it in the past. And then the rest of the album goes even farther.”
• For more information about The California Honeydrops, visit cahoneydrops.com.