“I resonated with the power and fierce energy… This was ‘do or die’ music, give your all or don’t turn up. I had turned up, and the cityscape became symbolic of this energy.”
The first time I arrived in New York I was 24. My brother had paid for my ticket to spend Christmas there with a family friend.
During that time I had met and had a lesson with Joe Lovano, seen in the New Year with the Monday Night big band at the Vanguard (the whole audience joining in with kazoos), taken daft pictures from the top of the World Trade Center, and had my wallet pinched outside the Village Gate having just seen Nat Adderly’s band; including a very young Vincent Herring and the wonderful Jimmy Cobb (who has recently passed on).
It was an experience that felt to me, as with so many of us when we first see the yellow cabs and iconic buildings, like walking into a movie!
The second time I visited NYC I kipped on the floor of Joe Locke’s Chelsea apartment and, during a rehearsal with a quintet he was leading, glanced out of the window where the top of the Chrysler Building poked up from a forest of surrounding structures. I resonated with the power and fierce energy of Joe’s band, this was ‘do or die’ music, give your all or don’t turn up. I had turned up, and the cityscape became symbolic of this energy. I had made friends quickly with wonderfully positive, talented, energetic musicians, thanks to Joe and his own relentless enthusiasm.
That great boost of American “Yes”ness stayed with me as I increasingly made trips over the Atlantic. I was able to get familiar with the subway and the routes to various jazz clubs. I did a lot of walking, Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park being favourite spots, and as much playing as I could.
At times New York gave the tired feeling of a machine worn with people and their dreams, every step, kerbside and door handle being ground down over years by millions of wide-eyed young aspirers.
At other times it inspired the most enlivening feeling imaginable. One such time was at the JVC Jazz Festival where I played alongside Chick Corea live in Washington Square Park, when once again I had a view of the skyline as I played, and once again it’s symbolism resonated with the incredible energy of the band.
I particularly remember a blistering solo of Chick’s (with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard forming the trio), and the resulting roar of the audience that crowded out the park. I was standing to one side along with the great alto player Steve Wilson, and we knew that one of us had to follow that with a solo of our own and we just looked at each other and laughed, it was a “you go first”, “no why don’t you go first” kind of moment!
Another time I remember playing with Storms/Nocturnes, that was the trio with Geoffrey Keezer and Joe Locke, at the Blue Note on a Monday night. As Joe had brought marimba as well as vibes, my job on the opening number was to hold down a simple marimba pattern before swapping to saxophone (before I got myself and the band into some kind of “out-of-my-depth” trouble!) I just remember looking out into the audience and seeing Mike Manieri, a true vibes star, staring right back at me!
I had an 01 visa for wider travel in the USA for many years and learned how different the rest of the States are to Manhattan and Brooklyn but, amazing as the country is, the albums I recorded there and gigs that I played never stand out in my memory as much as the people I made the music with.
So in conclusion, maybe NYC for me, really is the people. Their fun, creativity, positivity, inclusivity, resourcefulness and courage are what I’m left with. Yes there were plenty of people playing hard-ball and becoming cruel, but in a community of creatives you felt as if you collectively formed wings to float above all that.
I know that NYC has been through extraordinary turmoil recently. I know that the passion, ingenuity and genius of its creatives WILL NOT and COULD not possibly stop, and they will, as they always have done, play a big part in the next chapter for this great city.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Maya Angelou