Very much a part of my life in New York City was jazz. Jazz was all
around me. St. Marks in the Bowery, my church, had jazz concerts in
the old graveyard beside the church and by old I mean really old. St.
Marks 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.
Local jazz musicians, very modern, would get up and play and we would
listen. We didnt always get it . Like I say it was
very advanced jazz, but it was free and it was lively so we enjoyed
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 with talent lined up. 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 couldnt help
it, played hot trumpet, He wasnt cool. He played hot modern which
Now Im 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 was involved in a plot, along with a lady from
Montreal and some other people, to (Arhhh, SIGH) blow up the Statue
of Liberty. Now this was before there were a lot of blowups. It was
even before the race riots. Freddie was really radical, so they were
going to do that. There was dynamite involved but I dont know
all the details. This 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 hes out by now. I dont
know. Ive 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 youd see him on the street. You could walk
down the street and you could see people. Youd see Clark Terry
or Lena Horne.
My young daughter was introduced to Lena when my old man
i.e. partner spotted her on the street. He said to Lena, Shes
going to grow up to be just like you, Lena and Lena said, Just
be yourself, honey, just be yourself.
Didnt 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, the best of
the cool. There was a spot called the Blue Note. 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 Id
heard about the roots music coming from juke joints and places like
that. They wanted us to come because they thought wed add tone
to the place. Always beware of places where you add tone. My old man
wouldnt go. He was a jazz guy and he said they were low class,
no account people. Well, that was the whole point! Thats where
the music started. My old man played a bit of trumpet but he wasnt
very good at it. He just faked it. Mainly he was a singer and styled
himself after Billy Eckstine.
One musician was attached to my Anarchist group. He was a bass player
and he wanted so badly to play but he didnt 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, this musician got himself a blue suit and now he could play because
he had the uniform as it were and, golly darn it, couldnt have
been more than a week and somebody stole his blue suit. Life is not
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, 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