Zuill Bailey, Won’t You Come Home?

Zulli Bailey(Editor’s Note: This piece should have appeared before Zuill’s performance at TFAC on September 26. Due to technical difficulties, we are only now able to post it. Read on, it’s quite a story!)
Well, “come home” he did. And the city fathers got together and named the day he did after him. In 2012, April 3 became “Zuill Bailey Day” in El Paso, Texas. Whether this day was to be considered such in perpetuity is difficult to ascertain, as is perhaps the reason for it. We presume the proclamation made was done for something he did based on fact, as most western legends are, though the specifics remain murky.

I saw Zuill Bailey myself—a year ago, September 20, at 11:15, to be precise. We, the orchestra onstage at the Porter Center in Brevard College, North Carolina, had returned for the second half of our rehearsal. Sunday’s performance of the Brevard Philharmonic Orchestra would again be there the next day. The number up was Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante, to be performed by you know who. We had become accustomed to hearing him talked about in admiring, hushed tones…quite a hubbub, really! And then he appeared.

He seemed tall, striding confidently with cello in hand that looked a bit larger than life, long black hair flowing. Thankfully, for our part, the gasps were muffled. I was looking for a desperado. Instead, we got Franz Liszt.

I wouldn’t say the mayor and his associates were duped.

All I saw was a quiet man, in his early forties, playing music as easily as though he’d played it that way from childhood, with Proustian passion.

Zulli BaileyZuill Bailey was born to play the cello, and where he chose to live didn’t make any difference. But where he was born did make a difference. That was Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac from the National Symphony, conducted by the monumental cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. His was the shadow in the background nurturing Zuill Bailey’s youthful development and genius. I lived there, in Alexandria, the year he was born, 1972. A military bandsman. But I left before Zuill Bailey was given the great revelation and discovered his identity.

It was at perhaps an educational concert put on by young people for younger people. Little Zuill is four. An over-stimulated fellow, he  races on the stage among older children prepared to show off their instruments when captivated by the basses or the violas, or the second violins, oblivious to destiny, he slams into a girl’s cello, relegating it to cello oblivion. Whereupon, he pronounces to parents in pursuit that yes, he has made his decision. This is what he chooses to play!

So in later years, he attends Peabody and Julliard, receiving exuberant accolades in gentlemanly fashion while touring the world.  We will see what they saw in El Paso and we’ll feel what they felt. Because when he sits down with that Venetian cello made in 1693 by Matteo Goffriller eight years after Bach’s birth, he will be at home again.


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