Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Jessie & The Gents offer a Swiss bluegrass sound

Mountains have always been an integral component as far as bluegrass and traditional music is concerned. Songs that reflect the inspiration of altitude originated with those who once dwelled overseas before eventually resettling in the US, and Appalachia in particular, places where they came to call the highlands home.

Jessie & The Gents have a tie to that tradition, not because of a shift in circumstance, but rather because their native Switzerland has its own mountainous terrain. The band — which consists of Jessie Hardegger  (vocals and mandolin), Rick Noorlander (vocals and guitar), Geri Zumbrunn (vocals and bass), Rainer Hagmann (fiddle), and Putzie Mayr (vocals and dobro) — shares their cause succinctly on their website: they promise to “deliver a really pleasurable listening experience…simply executed but played with much love and enthusiasm, and to a very high standard.”

Apparently that pledge has paid off. Their first album, Jessie & the Gents – On the Rise, was released in the autumn of 2017, and can currently be found on iTunes and Spotify. Approximately a year later, after its release —in May of 2018 to be precise — they garnered first prize honors at the Swiss Country Music Awards, where they were also recognized in the Best Song category, courtesy of their original composition, I Ain’t Gonna Ride With You.

In concert, they play a mix of their own compositions, as well as songs by Alison Krauss, Norah Jones, and others.

The band originated with a core group consisting of Hardegger, Noorlander and Mayr, and then expanded from there. “The fiddle player, Rainer Hagmann, worked in the past with Rick,” Hardegger explains. “And Geri Zumbrunn got in through Rainer. Switzerland is so small, it’s all one tiny music family…but there are not many musicians who are into bluegrass music… I was lucky to find the best in our country.”

Tapping into their early influences — Hardegger cites Sam Bush, Alison Krauss, the Dixie Chicks, James Taylor, and Rhonda Vincent as prime among them — the band quickly gained an international following. They’ve performed at the La Roche Festival in France, and last year, pre-pandemic, they had the opportunity to tour throughout Canada. At the same time, they also got an invitation to play at the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival in Alberta. While there, they found themselves appearing alongside John Reischman and Tim O’Brien.

“If Covid 19 had not come into our lives, we would have shared a stage with Rhonda Vincent this past summer,” Hardegger notes ruefully.

Nevertheless, their concerts have been received well. “They seem to very much love our music,” Hardegger says while speaking of the audiences the group has attracted up until now. Nevertheless, she finds it somewhat ironic considering there’s very little connection between the basics of bluegrass and the music generally associated with the group’s homeland.

“No, absolutely not,” she laughs when asked if she can cite any similarities between the two. “Traditional Swiss music is played with different instruments, like an alphorn, zither and accordion. And we have a complete different way of singing… Swiss people yodel!”

That said, Hardegger understands why even despite any disparities, bluegrass seems to find a common bond worldwide. “I think that the warm acoustic sounds of the instruments, along with the vocal harmonies, touch people,” she says. “The joy and the fire felt by our acoustic crew clearly shines through in the music.”

Or, as it states on their website, going “back to the basics” is always the order of the day. 

More information about Jessie & The Gents can be found online.

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.