I met Phil Pollard and Geol Greenlee when I hired them to play a cocktail reception at the Crowne Plaza Knoxville. A group wanted me to sing the theme song of their conference, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” with the band, so I asked Phil and Geol, who reluctantly said it would be okay. A few days earlier, I had spoken with Gregg White at the newly opened Preservation Pub about wanting to sing with a band. He said he didn’t know of anyone looking for a singer, but if I found a band he would hire us. They had never had live music there before but were considering it. I believe my conversation with Gregg was on a Friday. The hotel gig with Phil and Geol where I sang one song was the next day. The three of us had an amazing connection after that first song. It was the very same spark you’re always looking for as a collaborative artist. Phil and I spoke on Sunday and I told him about Gregg White’s offer. Phil asked, “Did you tell him you have a band?” I said I hadn’t because I didn’t know I had one. Phil then told me, “Sara, you always say yes. Get the gig first and then figure out the details later. We’re you’re band!” The following Monday, I walked over to the Pub and told Gregg that I got a band together over the weekend and he booked us for two regular Wednesdays each month. If I’m not mistaken, we were the first group to play there. This must have been in 2003, but I’m not sure what month.
The Yankee Jass Band essentially became the musical component of the Actors Co-op beginning with the annual cabaret events. Part of this was because of Phil’s eagerness to perform, and not only as a musician. Obviously his musical skills were formidable, but he also seemed hungry for other types of performance. Phil joined the cast of our “Cabaret Burlesque” in 2004 and remained an integral part of the process from that day forward, both as a musician and an actor. It was a joy to watch him explore all kinds of performance.
Most of the anecdotes I have about Phil involve belly laughter and spit takes. He was one of the most hilarious people many of us have ever known. However, I know I’m not alone in saying that one of the things I’ll miss most about Phil are the quiet, epic conversations. Not too long ago, Phil was staying with me in Phoenix while he was performing in the Slomski Brothers [vaudeville] show on the Phoenix Fringe Festival. We sat on my stoop, drinking whiskey and discussing Bertolt Brecht until the sun came up. I could almost feel my prickly, academic world colliding with the comfort Phil brought with him from my old life in Knoxville. But that’s what Phil always did, isn’t it? He made all sorts of worlds collide in the most artful way.
Phil always made bold choices, whether he was the frontman or in a supportive role. I believe that his confidence, talent, knowledge, and daring nature inspired all who collaborated with him to make bold choices as well. I trusted him completely as an artist, a partner, and as a friend. I will miss him dearly, but will try to remember to make bold choices in my art, as well as in my life.
Sara Schwabe performed with the Yankee Jass Band around Knoxville during the mid-2000s with Phil Pollard, a larger-than-life presence on the local music scene as a drummer, bandleader, and ringmaster for almost a decade. Pollard, 44, died in Richmond, Va., where he had moved a few years ago, on Oct. 29, after suffering a stroke. For more remembrances, see Secret History and All Foods Considered.