Piping Hot!

Photo by Eddie MeeksJason Bond sells mobile homes, which means the Costa Mesa resident is constantly on the phone or in the field dealing with customers. But his sideline is no less frenetic, taking him to churches, cemeteries, nightspots, golf courses, yacht clubs and reception halls.

The 53-year-old Bond plays bagpipes, and he's in near-constant demand for weddings, funerals, golf tournaments and private parties. He has so perfected the art of piping that you've probably heard him without knowing it in movies, on professional recordings or at live performances—including rock concerts.

“The people just go crazy when they see me,” Bond said of a recent show in Irvine that found him onstage with an electric guitarist to his left and an electric violinist to his right.

What's more unusual than a piper in a rock band? How about a piper with an Australian accent?

Bond was about 12 and at a cadet academy in his native Australia when he decided he'd had enough of the sports program and noticed the cadet pipe band practiced at the same time. “'Eureka!' I thought. I immediately went and joined the pipe band,” he says.

His father had played the clarinet with Australia's junior symphony orchestra, and while the younger Bond dabbled with that woodwind, it never really grabbed him. There was something different about the bagpipes.

“It turns out I was kind of a prodigy,” he says. Within six months, he was the cadet academy's star performer. A love of travel and sense of adventure eventually brought him to the U.S.

“This is the land of opportunity,” he said. “There are more diverse things here than anywhere else. And I'm right by Newport Beach. What's better than that?”

But he was actually much farther up the California coast when his love for the pipes evolved into a business in the late 1980s. He was among the founding pipers at Pebble Beach's Spanish Bay golf course, which features strolling pipe bands in Scottish garb.

“People kept asking me to play at corporate events and golfing events,” Bond recalls. “I did that, and it led to other private parties. There just came more and more demand for it. It just happened. Now it has developed into a great sideline business, which I love to do.”

Despite its modern association with the Scots, the bagpipe was probably first developed in Mesopotamia. Later versions turned up in ancient Greece, Rome and India. Pipes made their way to nearly every European country, especially 18th-century France, where it was called the musette. But the bagpipe really took off in the British Isles, particularly Northumberland, Ireland and, of course, Scotland.

Bagpipes are generally a bag (usually leather, inflated either by mouth through a tube or by a bellows worked by the arm), one or two melody pipes (known as chanters or chaunters, which have finger holes and are usually fitted with double reeds), and one or more drones (which produce one sustained tone each and usually have single reeds).

Bond has played in several pipe bands over the years, but he believes it's only within the past 15 years that he's gotten serious enough about the bagpipes to have “perfected the art.”

Some would suggest “art” and “bagpipes” don't belong in the same sentence. The bagpipe has generally been neglected by composers, who have frowned at its short range and considered it nothing more than a noisemaker to fire up troops. German soldiers in World War I referred to Scottish pipers as Ladies From Hell. Meanwhile, to many American ears, the sound coming out of the pipes has been likened to that made by fingernails on a chalkboard.

“I've encountered that,” admits Bond.

Illustration by Mark Dancey

So what is he hearing that others aren't?

He gently explains that he grew up in a household that appreciated classical music, and having played in everything from large-scale orchestras to small ensembles, as well as having been a classical radio announcer, “I know a lot about sounds.”

To Bond, the pipes emit a diverse and sophisticated sound—one that has impelled him to explore all kinds of classical and ethnic folk styles. He has learned classical guitar, mandolin and pennywhistle and is currently writing a book on Celtic music for pipers that aims to distinguish between Irish and Scottish tunes played on the instrument.

Bagpipe music may not be for everyone, but based on Bond's many bookings, a lot of people seem to know what they like.

“Discerning people have told me they like my tone, my phrasing, my intonation,” he said. “People have told me they've been able to pick me out of a room of pipers. They know my style. I think that's a compliment.”

To book Jason Bond, call (949) 463-2487 or (714) 291-2641.

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