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In Fine Fiddle

Abandoning band tours and some renown, Bromberg now owns a violin store in Wilmington, Del., and jams with local musicians.
Abandoning band tours and some renown, Bromberg now owns a violin store in Wilmington, Del., and jams with local musicians. "It has given me back my chops," he says. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

"A work in progress," she says of her art car. "As we all are."

They're busy. When Bromberg isn't running his shop -- he answers the door and the phone -- he travels to auctions and his own gigs, which have picked up in frequency in recent years.

Their commitment to stay in the building for four years ended last month, Bromberg says, but they have no interest in moving. "I love my life here," he says.

A main reason is the twice-a-week jams he organized -- bluegrass on Tuesdays, blues on Thursdays. At first he expected that he would "endure" the jams, and sometimes, when a player stumbles through a mediocre version of a tune he recorded long ago, he wonders how he ended up there.

Mostly, though, there's more than enough talent to keep him interested. His favorite is John Lippincott, a teenager who walked in one night with an electric guitar. Bromberg calls him the best electric blues player he's ever played with. He also met a mother-daughter singing team. Their voices were so stirring that Bromberg and his wife recruited them to form Angel Band, which occasionally opens for his own group.

The scene takes him back to the old days in New York, when he'd spend hours playing with friends in his apartment. "It has given me back my chops," he says.

* * *

When Bromberg walks into Cafe 4W5, where the jams were held for three years before moving this month to a nearby hotel, friends and strangers alike greet him by his first name. On bluegrass night, they know he'll start in the back, then wander up front where more experienced musicians play.

They also know that when 10 p.m. arrives, he will announce that he has to leave and walk the dog. No one complains. They're just happy he's around.

"Before he was here, there was nothing," says Joe Allen, 55, a produce man at a supermarket who writes poetry. "It's turned the whole scene around. It gives a place for old hippies to home in on."

Not just hippies. The bassist is all of 12 years old. And the kid playing mandolin is 13.

When it's Bromberg's turn to lead, his right eye closes slightly, lips curling as his long fingers prowl the fret board. "You don't know how happy I am to see you," he tells the group when the tune is over.

After two hours of playing, he asks for a slice of strawberry cream pie. Then the clock strikes 10, and he disappears out the door.


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