One thing that was very much a part of my life in New York City was
jazz. It was all around me. The church where I went to during my religious
phase, St. Marks in the Bowery, used to have jazz concerts in the old
graveyard beside the church and by old I mean really old. It was an
ancient church by New World standards. Peter Stuyvesant was buried beneath
it.In the churchyard, where the tombstones were all laid flat because
they were very old, we would sit on the grass or just perch in this
iron fenced in little area. There was a tiny stage and local jazz musicians,
very modern, would get up and play and we would listen. We didn't
always 'get it' . Like I say it was very advanced jazz but it was free
and it was lively so we enjoyed it.
Another group that featured jazz musicians was the Communist Party.
I am not now nor was I ever a member of the Communist Party but, speaking
of parties, they threw the best parties (fund raisers). They had everything
organized and talent lined up and you could go there and have a good
time. We would go to their parties which were generally held in a loft
or other large space. I remember one occasion when there was an modern
trumpet player. I remember his name as Freddie Redd but there was an
older musician of the same name so I may have that wrong. Whatever his
name was he was an modern player who, because he couldn't help it, played
hot trumpet, He wasn't cool. He played hot modern which is .... interesting.
Now I'm not too shy so I would get up with a willing or unwilling partner
and try to dance to this stuff. Well, the beat was all over the place.
It was like a free form impressionist painting in sound but if you knew
a little bit about ballet and modern dance you could fake it - which
I did - probably to the bemusement of the band who were laying down
their souls in abstract notes.
Now this same fellow, whom I remember as Freddie, wrongly or rightly,
was involved in a plot, along with a lady from Montreal and some other
people, to (Ahhh, SIGH) blow up the Statue of Liberty. Now this was
before there were a lot of blowups. It was even before the race riots.
He was really radical and they were going to do that. There was dynamite
but I don't know all the details. It was in the newspapers. I think
it was the F.B.I. That got wind of this and they all ended up in the
slammer, in jail, including Freddie and I just wonder about that sometimes
because he was a delicate little fellow and he must have gone through
hell in prison. Maybe he's out by now. I don't know. I've lost track
of all those people from the 60s.
Elvin Jones, a well known drummer, lived next door to us on East 2nd
Street for a while and you'd see him on the street. You could walk down
the street and you could see people. You'd see Clark Terry or Lena Horne.
Matter of fact my young daughter was introduced to Lena when my 'old
man' i.e. partner spotted her on the street. Said to Lena, "She's
going to grow up to be just like you, Lena" and Lena said, "Just
be yourself, honey, just be yourself."
Didn't hear much blues back then except in the folk clubs or on the
radio from the white roots bands. I caught Miles Davis at the Village
Vanguard and was mightily confused when he played with his back to the
audience but it was a beautiful sound, a beautiful sound. That was the
best of the cool. That was it. There was a spot called the Blue Note
and we went there too.This is not jazz but there was a juke joint on
my street between Avenues A &B on East 2nd Street. I wanted to go
so bad because I'd heard about the roots music coming from juke joints
and places like that. They wanted us to come because they thought we'd
add tone to the place. Always beware of places where you add tone. My
old man wouldn't go. He was a jazz guy and he said they were low class,
no account people. Well, that was the whole point! That's where the
music started. My old man played a bit of trumpet but he wasn't very
good at it. He just faked it. Mainly he was a singer and styled himself
after Billy Eckstine.
There were other musicians around. There was one who was attached to
my Anarchist group. He was a bass player and he wanted so badly to play
but he didn't have a blue suit which you had to have to be on the bandstand.
A stroke of good fortune came his way when Gerry the Marshall kited
a cheque and started giving away money (I was out of town when this
happened. Heard about it later). So, he got himself a blue suit and
now he could play because he had the uniform as it were and, gol darn
it, couldn't have been more than a week or two days and somebody stole
his blue suit. Life is not fair
Vincent Hickey played the drums and taught me a lot about early jazz
He got me started and taught me how to play one hand with one time and
the other hand another time and backbeat and stuff like that.There was
Latin music all around us, guys playing bongos and Conga drum on street
corners, but for me the true sound of New York in those days was then
and always will be jazz.
© Sonia Brock 2006