Tuesday, March 24, 2020

NYC, March 2020

The feeling is almost enormous.  The relative stillness and quiet of New York City.  For how many days now?  Not really that many but a far greater length of standstill than I’m guessing has ever happened here.  And because it’s so different and seemingly impossible it begins to take on a kind of inverse quality of the power the city usually wields.  The outward becomes inward.  But still here, always reminding us that this is New York City.

I know this is happening far and wide.  Checking the news regularly although less frequently.  Business and communication slowing to a trickle.  Making no real effort to avoid the discomfort or otherwise distract myself.  Just taking care of the day to day, just like everyone.  The silence and simplicity is starting to speak.  What’s unnecessary falls under it’s own weight.  The experience is direct.  I can do nothing to stop it.  Nor is there any need.  It’s shared.

So this is an entry from an ambivalent blogger.  Not sure why I’m writing.  Not sure what there is to add.  But I know that what I’m feeling is not mine alone.  Even solitude does not belong to me.  It too communicates; receives and transmits.

I spoke about words at some length in a previous post.  I still don’t know.  I’m not even sure what I was expecting after that analysis.  So this is simply a post without a reason, without a commitment.  It could be some kind of acknowledgement.  I can’t help but think about the city since 1983 when I moved here.  And about many of the people I know and knew.  Of those in the latter category, there are a few that I would have mentioned here had I been writing more regularly.  I want to do so now.

I offer these as affirmations of life…

Jeff Andrews 
With shared roots in Baltimore, Jeff and I were roommates in the mid-eighties.  We shared a small apartment in Chelsea with one other musician.  The whole place was $350 a month and included all the story-book elements that create that oft-romanticized telling of the bohemian artist’s life.  I will spare the details, you can use your imagination.  But we were there for one reason alone.  To practice, to hang, to create a life in music.  Jeff was extremely talented and dedicated to the art.  He spent hours practicing his electric bass during the day and hours spent out at night.  Sometime around 1984 he got a call to play a duo gig with a guitarist at a dark, dank old bar on Christopher street.  It was a depressing little joint inhabited by mostly alcoholics, a fair number of whom seemed to be ex writers and painters.  There’s a whole story about how this place slowly transformed into the jazz bar we now know it as, the 55 Bar.  In fact, there are a lot of stories I could tell about NYC from those days but I should probably give it more time.  Anyway, the point being that it was Jeff’s efforts that turned the tide for that place.  I know because I was there and saw it.

Jeff used the 55 Bar and the scene it created to launch himself into the larger scene, soon playing in bands led by Mike Stern, Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter and a whole bunch more.  I left that apartment around ’86 and while our paths began to diverge musically those early days were formative.  Jeff passed a year ago, in March of 2019.  I know he was battling pneumonia in the months prior.  He had a large spirit and he knew what to do with it.  Still, I know there were challenges and I mention that out of deepest respect.  This person whom you may or may not have known, had an effect.  Those who did know him understand from experience and those who did not can still know by virtue of what I mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this entry, our shared experiences in every form.  Thanks Jeff, for everything.

Brian Sjoerdinga
Brian was a fellow tenor saxophonist and we met in 1982 while on the road with trombonist Buddy Morrow.  Same age, same influences, same aspirations.  Brian studied music at Berklee and could really play.  I couldn’t help myself from stealing anything I could glean from his solos.  He had a goodnatured saltiness about it all.  Very bright and understated sense of humor.  After our road years we also became NYC roommates after I left the Chelsea pad and moved to Inwood (otherwise known as “upstate Manhattan”) in a largish apartment serving as a home for itinerant musicians.  Guitarist Ben Monder was also there in that period.  One of the great pleasures of that time was hearing Ben’s uncontrollable laughter at Brian’s relentless and often ruthless stream of critical observation.  He’d be doubled over and laughing so hard nothing would come out.  But Brian was a sweet guy really.  He left NYC after a year or so and wound up near Chicago.  The last time I saw him was in 2010.  He came to a gig I was doing and we had a chance to catch up.  He was happily married and genuinely happy in a way that I’d not quite seen before.  It really touched me.  It was also about a year ago that I received the news that Brian was ill.  He passed a matter of days after that.  I always wished that more people might have known Brian’s musicianship and spirit.  But over time I begin to trust that what may be lost simply takes other forms and energies.  Just like they do when they come together in a particular person at a particular time.

Steve Dalachinsky

Steve was a poet and a large figure in the downtown NYC scene.  I can’t even really express it.  If you were around you probably met him.  Even if you didn’t, you did.  Trust me.  I’m just going to post the text that I wrote in September of 2019 after I heard the news...

A Remembrance…for Steve Dalachinsky

It was a Saturday evening, the 17th of August to be exact. Maybe 7:30 or so. A perfect New York late summer day.
We were returning home, Michelle and I, from Chinatown.
On our bikes, we entered the west side bike path turning north. There was Steve, crossing the path at Spring street, just as we were passing. I yelled out “Hey” and we stopped right there. Within seconds immediately engrossed in conversation. Had to be warned out of the way by passing cyclists. Pulled to the side, gave a hug and continued, catching up, seeing, hearing what’s what.
Steve. Fully animated, all smiles, telling stories, what’s happened, what’s coming up.
One of many similar unexpected meetings over many years.
He was often everywhere, sometimes I saw him, other times heard that he had been there. He is on his way to the Stone to hear Ben Goldberg but first,
he says he wants to catch the sunset, from along the Hudson, from just the right spot at just the right time. He knows where it is, and he wants to get there in time. So we wish each other well, secure in the knowledge that we’ll be seeing each other soon at some point. Just like always. We close up the conversation and offer our salutations.
Several times in fact, there’s always one more thing…
But the sun is setting and he wants to meet it. So on he goes,
still talking, still gesticulating, smiling, laughing, while walking towards that moment.
We take our bikes up a block, I have to check mine into the citi bike station. And we hear Steve. He’s walking along, farther away now, seeing us and talking some more.
I can’t make out what he’s saying but he’s very enthused.
And I’m loving the fact that he hasn’t skipped a beat.
Still walking, still talking, still gesticulating, still smiling.
We wave back…

That’ll have to be the last time, I guess…
But I can still see his arms flying. I can still hear the sound of his voice. And I can imagine him standing in his spot, watching the New York sun set over the river…

1 comment:

  1. Ellery,

    Thank you for this. Nice to see you repopulating this corner of the internet. I really enjoyed the sentiments toward these three friends of yours. Lovely.

    " The silence and simplicity is starting to speak. What’s unnecessary falls under it’s own weight. The experience is direct. I can do nothing to stop it. Nor is there any need. It’s shared."

    -This is 100% the experience as I might verbalize it on my end, too. I have been thinking about how eerie and powerful a feeling this must be in NYC, Manhattan at that...it has been quite transformative in Baltimore, too - a city that tends to move at a slower pace than NYC under normal circumstances. The feeling here is almost a bucolic and quaint...from time to time a car passes. Neighbors wave and express their warm solidarity, often in quieter and slower patterns of speech than normal. People hear what they are saying as they speak, and are listening to one another communicating. We are waking up. We are all being given a chance to listen within, in unison. Quite an experience...

    All my best,