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Barrel Stove Combo keeps it jazzy for 20 years and running

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | May 30, 2024 12:00 AM

Members of the Barrel Stove Combo keep coming back to the jazz group roughly 20 years after the band got its start to play music that feels familiar and refreshing all at the same time. 

It’s a running joke that when Barrel Stove Combo drummer Vinnie Rannazzisi lists all of the bands he’s in (or has been involved with) it’s very possible that he will forget a couple. The musician has been a mainstay in the Flathead music scene for decades now. But, Barrel Stove Combo is one he keeps coming back to after all these years, with his wife Rebecca Nelson on flute and tenor saxophone and Eric Gates playing an eight-string guitar.

“Friendship is the basis of it. We all are really good friends. We communicate and get along really well,” Rannazzisi said.

The group got its start when Gates, Nelson and Rannazzisi met each other through David Noftsinger’s experimental folk project called The Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove in the early 2000s. Gates said the band built up parts around Noftsinger’s music, which started to include some unconscious jazz influences. 

“We brought a lot of jazz influence into that. I guess that was probably where we started realizing things like, in a silent way. We started playing Miles Davis tunes as background to some of his raps and songs,” Gates said. 

The three soon formed Barrel Stove Combo, named for the barrel stove that warmed the garage where they found their sound. They’ve been interested in jazz throughout their lives and were excited to find a project to further explore that music. 

As a flute player with a classical emphasis, Nelson wanted to learn more about the genre in college, but found it hard to break through. It discouraged her from the style for a while, until she later became self-taught on saxophone. 

She said working with The Seven Worthies was a great stepping stone to learn improvisational skills that she would later use for jazz.  

“I bring what I enjoy about it into the way I perform, which is not highly technical, but the lyricism and everything — that's what I like,” Nelson said. 

The folk band also gave Gates the chance to pick up an eight string guitar, and soon he would use it to write jazz songs for Barrel Stove Combo. His songs feature “angular melodies and surprising harmonies against a grooving rhythm,” according to a release from the band. 

But the inspiration comes in waves, often with long stretches of time in between. Gates said he’ll occasionally get hit with a bunch of ideas, leading him to sit down to practice. He’ll build off guitar riffs, coming up with ideas and refining them and refining them until they grow into songs.

“Sometimes it comes and I'll get like three or four at once. And then I may not be inspired again for another year. It's not very predictable, and I try to recognize when it's happening, to get on that wave and ride it for as long as I can,” Gates said. 


In addition to Gates’ songs, the trio plays covers of some of their favorite Miles Davis compositions, as well as some Latin tunes and the occasional Nirvana song.

Gates has written around a dozen songs for the band, and it’s a running gag with his bandmates that they will record them as an album. It’s a goal for the group, but Gates said it’s hard to coordinate.

“We make an effort at it — it’s hard to schedule it in with everyone's time and it hasn't gone well so far. But, sometime I'd love to get some of this stuff down,” Gates said. 

Barrel Stove Combo keeps it mellow, playing often at venues like weddings, cocktail parties and bars, restaurants and events like benefits. 

For something more eclectic and funkier, fans can catch Gates, Nelson and Rannazzisi also playing together in 20 Grand and HotDayum. In addition to the many projects he’s involved in, such as Pedacter Project and Surf Bat, Rannazzisi said he has started a solo project playing left hand synth bass and one-handed drums. 

“I wrote an album this winter of that music, and so I’m slowly pedaling the introduction of that to the valley. And I’m having fun doing that, writing my own songs in my own way,” Rannazzisi said.

But, there’s something about the reliability and ease of Barrel Stove that keeps him coming back, along with Nelson and Gates. The bandmates said one perk of being together so long is that they take very little rehearsal, and find it easy to fall back into place with each other when they play.

Rannazzisi said it took work to get to that place.

“We've been doing it for a long time. I know the rhythm of Eric’s life, and I know what he does and when he's ready to practice or when he's too busy to book a gig,” Rannazzisi said. “And with Rebecca, I do a lot of booking and I know not to push and I know what makes sense and what feels good.”

Nelson said even though they don’t often update their set list, they keep finding new ways to enjoy songs they’ve been playing for years.

“I mean, that's kind of the beauty of jazz. You can just keep exploring tunes in different ways — it's always fun,” Nelson said.

Barrel Stove Combo performs on June 7 at noon for the Daily Inter Lake’s Press Play concert series. Subscribers can join for a unique music listening experience at the Daily Inter Lake office by donating to the Newspapers in Education initiative. Concertgoers can bring lunch or purchase one of three options from The House of S&M.

Tickets and lunch are available at flatheadtickets.com or by calling 406-758-4436.


Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.