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 - well, they just were, 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 avant-guard, would get up and play and we would listen. We didn't always 'get it' . Like I say it was very avant guard jazz but it was free, it was lively and we enjoyed it.
Another group that featured jazz musicians was the Communist Party. Well, I am not now and never was 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 some such and I remember one occasion when there was an avant-guard trumpet player. Now, 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 avant guard player who couldn't help it he played hot trumpet, He wasn't cool. He played 'hot avant guard which is .... interesting.
Now I don't have a lot of self consciousness 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 stayed next door to us on East 2nd Street for a while and you'd see him. 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 beautiful sound, 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
I already talked about Vinnie who 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 back beat and stuff like that.
There was Latin music all around us but for me the true sound of New York in those days was then and always will be jazz.
© Sonia Brock 2006