Mandolinist Bobby Bancalari Entertains Through Improvisation on Piano at Utopia

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Bobby Bancalari

Bobby Bancalari

In spring of 2013, Bobby Bancalari’s music partner/agent/pushy ex proposed he get a gig playing piano at Utopia, a restaurant in Long Beach’s East Village Arts District. She contacted the owner Kamran and asked, “Can Bobby play your piano on Thursdays?” and Kamran agreed, sight unseen, sound unheard. Bobby’s response was, “But I don’t play piano.”

Though known among his friends and colleagues as a huge talent who can play every instrument, Bobby has identified himself as a mandolinist and has completed a few US tours as one. When describing why the mandolin is his main instrument, he explains that the mandolin is an extension of himself, the music flows through with little thought and he “goes to another place.” It is no surprise that Mel Bay named him one of the “Greatest mandolinists in the world” in a book of the same name published in 2000.

Aside from mandolin, Bobby plays guitar in a jazz trio called The Funny Valentines, writes 17th Century style compositions, and releases pop instrumentals for ring tone companies. Currently, he is working on his second violin concerto, which will be submitted to ASCAP’s Nissim contest for best score. All of these musical endeavors have allowed him to get by without being forced to get a “real job,” which in these trying times is difficult even for a non-musician. In the spirit of “do what you know,” he agreed to get to know the piano a little better.

Bobby is not your typical piano man. He doesn’t bring a fake book. He doesn’t take requests. The crowd doesn’t seem to mind. What he does is write on the spot. His fingers hit the keys, his eyes close, and he improvises, creating melodies that range from ragtime to baroque to freeform jazz.

After a few months performing at Utopia, Bobby has noticed a few regulars. When it comes to tips, some nights are better than others. But something unexpected has happened. Something more important than money. With each week of close-your-eyes-and-play, his piano skills have not only improved, he has found that space where the music flows through. What now constitutes a good night is the ability to connect to that magic. All on a borrowed piano, he goes to another place.

Come witness the magic. Every Thursday and some Saturdays at Utopia 445 E. 1st Street
Long Beach, CA 7-9 p.m.

For more information about Bobby Bancalari, contact Guttermen Music or visit

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