Five Questions with Bruce & Sam

Krista Connor

Area jazz and folk musicians Bruce Anthony and Sam Nobles—known as a duo as Bruce & Sam—talk beat boxing, beach trips, and their inaugural album, out June 1

Beverages in hand and seated comfortably in a quiet corner at Greenville’s Brew HaHa!, Bruce Anthony and Sam Nobles interact with an ease and understanding that can only come from nearly a decade of friendship and professional collaboration.

Both musicians, who make up the jazz, blues and folk duo Bruce & Sam, have been playing since they were young. Anthony, 63, picked up a guitar for the first time when he was 12; the 28-year-old Nobles discovered piano at age 10, and played bass and upright bass in his teens.

Despite the 35-year difference in their ages, they had an almost immediate musical chemistry.

They met through Nobles’ brother, also a lifelong musician, when Nobles was in high school and sporting, Anthony laughingly recalls, some memorable dreadlocks. He saw Nobles perform for the first time in 2006 when the teenager played bass at the Urban Bike Project in Wilmington.

“He was playing some Weather Report and Herbie Hancock stuff, but he was too young for collaborating. But I said, ‘That boy can play right there. I’m gonna keep my eye on him,’” Anthony says.

A few years later, the two met again during one of Nobles’ performances with the University of Delaware Jazz Ensemble.

“He was playing bass again, and I was like, ‘I need to play music with him.’ He was killing it,” says Anthony.

“After that, we started working together,” says Nobles. “Eventually he said, ‘Bring your bass out, you can sit in on a couple of tunes’—and before we knew it, we were gigging.”

Individually, both are mainstays in the Delaware music community, and they’re among the few who have made their passion a fulltime job.

“He’s probably one of the only people I know doing it fulltime,” says Anthony, adding: “Small Wonder Sam.”

For them, fulltime gigging in Delaware requires near-constant flexibility, something their laid-back personalities seem to thrive on. At any given time, you’ll see Nobles playing with local bands like fiancé and the Rob Zinn group, while Anthony’s out soloing at various eateries and events. Nobles, especially, is a veteran in the Newark community; his previous instant-hit college and post-college groups Diego Paulo, Mean Lady and Travel Songs sprouted there.

But the two artists come together for gigs at least three times a week at area restaurants and events, Nobles typically playing upright bass and Anthony on guitar. Bruce & Sam are creating a shared name for themselves at repeat venues like 8th & Union Kitchen during weekend brunch, or at Rehoboth’s Chesapeake & Maine. And they’re not just background noise—people are coming out specifically to hear them.

Now the duo is slated to release their first album, on Friday, June 1. Titled Bruce & Sam, it’ll feature more than a dozen songs, half of which will be originals by Anthony, and half will be covers.  

While Anthony drinks white wine and Nobles sips coffee, they give us us some insight into what makes their partnership a success:

Bruce & Sam play regularly at local bars and restaurants like 8th & Union Kitchen, Chesapeake & Maine, the Greenville Brew HaHa! and more. Photo courtesy of Bruce & Sam

O&A: As a duo, do you prefer to stick to covers, originals or both? What are some of your favorites?

Anthony: When we play together we concentrate on old covers, but we’ve been playing a lot of music I’ve written as well. I would say 80-90 percent is jazz standard covers, with two-three original tunes per show. 

Nobles: We do “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Smile,” by Charlie Chaplin, a lot of Bill Withers like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day;” Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.

Anthony: As far as originals, there are different styles in some of the songs I write. One of the songs is called “The Good Life,” and it’s more of a self-biography, talking about ups and downs; that’s kind of poppy, I would think—is it poppy?

Nobles: Yeah, yeah, poppy, funky.

Anthony: It’s original, and nobody can take that away. There’s another song called “Bellefonte,” it’s instrumental, it’s like a country boogie, one that you’d hear three guys playing on the porch. Foot stomping—it’s not jazz, is it?

Nobles: Nope.

Anthony: It’s a very country tune.

O&A: How do you think you complement one another with the blending of your musical backgrounds?

Anthony: Well, I’m an old guy [laughter], he’s a young guy, first off. I’m an old black man, he’s a young white guy. And we’ve been playing together for eight years. You don’t see that. You could go anywhere—I don’t think it’s being done. He’s solid. What I think about him: I can go anywhere, paint any kind of picture, and he will be the canvas. I can use any color, and he will be the light that shines on it. He’s consistent. He’s a bass player. So if I make a mistake, I have to follow him. But he will allow me to make a mistake, and then come back home. Okay, your turn [laughter].

Nobles: I think just playing together for so long, there’s so much unspokenness that happens between us. There’s definitely a chemistry. For example, when one of us is soloing on stage, then done soloing, it’s usually just out of the corner of your eye that you’ll know it’s time to move on. We both give each other a lot of room to talk, musically.

Anthony: I’ve been going through some stuff, some really heavy stuff the past couple of weeks. I’m trying not to be bitter about it, and I can’t talk about it, but when I start playing, he knows, he hears it. I started using the wah-wah pedal—you know, the sound effect, wahhh, wahhhh, cry all the time.

Nobles: It’s definitely a place we get to express. And that’s really nice, because not every musician lets you stretch out like that. And we’re always turning each other on to new stuff, too. We have this little beat box. And it’s not much. Just provides a beat. It’s very subliminal. It’s not taking over everything. We introduced it a couple years ago and now we do it all the time. Playing the beats, having funky, sometimes hip-hop-sounding beats. So that’s developed with us.

O&A: You brought up your age difference. How does that impact your music, if at all?

Anthony: You wanna answer that, dude?

Nobles: Sure, unless you got an answer.

Anthony: Musically, it’s timeless, especially the jazz stuff. It’s timeless. Sam plays like an old person, I play like a young person sometimes. The age thing doesn’t come into play while we’re playing.

Nobles: Bruce, you’ve played so much, so many places, you have a lot of advice I admire, and the way you play in a room without drowning people out; some musicians don’t understand that philosophy and say, “I’m gonna be as loud as I want to be.” Bruce is such an adaptor of the room. That’s one of the many reasons people love his sound. He fits right in the right place without blowing anybody out. That’s something I appreciate and try to incorporate.

O&A: Your chemistry, empathy and respect for each other really is palpable. What is it that makes you get along so well?

Anthony: He’s very patient.

Nobles: Bruce, too.

Anthony: Really, I can’t say. I’ve only known another guy, a sax player I used to play with…these kind of people I’m gravitated towards. They’re holistic people. The chemistry, I don’t know what it is. But it’s working. This guy could be anywhere in the world if he wanted to. He’s young, he could go anywhere. I’m lucky to have him play with me in Delaware. I just think he’s a good person and it comes out in his music.

Nobles: Thank you. Likewise. We have a lot of fun. I think it shows when we’re playing. We enjoy hearing what the other plays, the surprises that come out, and we laugh while we’re playing. We really have a good time. To play as often as we do, and it always feels fresh and fun. It’s pretty special.

Anthony: Psht, yeah it is. We drive to the beach a lot together for gigs at Chesapeake & Maine and the farmers market in Rehoboth, so we’re up and down Route 1 a lot.

Nobles: We always have a good time driving there. We usually have some catching up to do with what we’ve been doing that week, what solo gigs we’ve had, what strange encounters we’ve had. It’s always fun to cruise down there, listen to good tunes—old blues recording, old-timey stuff.

O&A: Can you talk about the album out June 1, Bruce & Sam? And what are your plans for the future as Bruce & Sam?

Nobles: The album should be between 12 and 14 songs. Half are original, and half covers —the originals are Bruce’s originals. We’ll be selling CDs of the new album at our shows and will also post the album to stream on Bandcamp [the link will be available through Facebook].

Anthony: I like staying in Delaware, it has been continuously getting better for me. The Bruce & Sam thing is getting better and better—people are saying, ‘This is something I want to go see,’ as opposed to being a background person in a restaurant. When it’s a ‘Bruce & Sam thing,’ people are coming out to see Bruce and Sam.

Find them on Facebook: Bruce & Sam.

See them play:

Every Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 8th and Union Kitchen

Every Friday, 5-8 p.m., Chesapeake & Maine

June 13, 5:30-7 p.m.: JCC Poolside Summer Concert Series

June 19, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Rehoboth Farmers Market

June 30, 5-8 p.m.: Brew HaHa! Greenville

July 16, 6:30-8 p.m.: Rockford Park Summer Concert Series

July 28, 5-8 p.m.: Brew HaHa! Greenville

So, what do you think? Please comment below.