Arts and CultureDIYMusic

The Bay Area’s Roaming Musical Instrument Lending Library

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All images courtesy of Lucie Duffort

There is a guy who wanders the Bay Area in a tricked-out truck handing out musical instruments like some kind of Pied Piper in a pinstripe vest.

His name is Jason Cool. (Yes, it is.) His project is called the Musical Instrument Library.

I met Cool for the first time mid-2018, at the Berkeley World Music Festival, where his truck-turned-stage extended out into the street. It was covered in oriental rugs and small stools, beanbag poufs and percussion instruments. There were children playing music up there, and adults too. Cool was at the center, a smiling dude with long blonde dreadlocks. He first played sitar and then handed it off, passing through the small crowd of new musicians, trading out instruments and teaching percussion parts.

He comes, of course, from Sonoma County. The Musical Instrument library is his baby, and he was there to bring it to the public.

As of now, the MIL is a customized box truck, with instruments lining the walls: violins, sitar, electric guitars, mandolins, bouzouki, banjos, cellos, flutes, trumpets, djembes, bells and tambourines… The truck comes out for all kinds of events across the Bay Area. It makes stops at schools for workshops on sound and instrument building, and is present every other Sunday at the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market. Cool wants everyone to play and encourages people to walk up off the street and try anything.

The MIL is really an instrument lending library. You come in, get a library card, make a $20 donation, choose an instrument, sign a form, and take the instrument home for two weeks. If you want, you can extend for a full month.

The instrument can be returned to the truck at another event, to People’s Music in Sebastopol, or Lark in the Morning in Berkeley.

Cool’s goal is for anyone to have real access to instruments (a sliding scale is available for lower income families), to get their hands on something and experience it without a heavy fee.

He and his partner in life and library travel regularly to collect instruments, make friends, and learn. Most recently, they went to thirteen different countries, including Turkey and India.

“Learning the culture behind the music is essential,” Cool insists, “but so is simply sharing and making your own connection. In the Bay Area, we have someone from every background, and to be able to embrace different kinds of music is great, but playing is better.”

If you want your kids (or yourself) to mess around and discover or deepen a love for music, this is a pretty good way to go. You can take out a sitar for a week, decide it was cool but you really want to try a banjo. Lose interest? Move on to clarinet. Or tablas. Or upright bass.

The array of instruments available is truly impressive. Cool can give basic education on all of them, and point you towards a teacher if you want to go farther. If you were to fall in love, you would want to invest in a more sophisticated instrument and lessons, but this window into discovering music is unique, at least in the Bay Area.

The truck has been in action for around three years now. Ultimately, Cool would like to run a brick and mortar library/museum, with a room for each country or tradition. “The world under one roof.” Lofty goals, but he is devoted, and nothing brings people together like access to new toys and good music.

You can find a full list of instruments, as well as plans for going out and about into the community, on the Musical Instrument Library website. Take a look, we need more musicians.

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Lucie Duffort

Lucie Duffort

Lucie Blue Duffort is an SF native who regularly swings back to her Parisian heartland. A word nerd and songstress, she can also be found behind bars and in front of high school students, sneaking outdated slang back into daily parlance over carefully measuring cocktails and vocab quizzes.