Sunday, February 15, 2015

2014 in Photos: NYC Music & Musicians

This is my first of several re-caps of the year 2014 in photographs. This one will focus solely on music and musicians in New York City. I felt some temptation to argue for New York as Music City U.S.A., inasmuch as I suspect it has more musical venues offering a broader spectrum of musical genres, every day and night, than any other American city. But to make such a bold pronouncement would incur the justified ire of proponents of so many other great "music cities," whether Austin, New Orleans, Nashville, or Chicago.

So instead, I simply offer the following fifty photographs as compelling images of musicians or musical performances--pictures that reveal a tiny segment of New York's musical diversity. They document those instances when I was lucky enough to be carrying a camera, able to shoot without disturbing audiences, and managed to capture an image worthy of this posting.

Miles Okazaki at SEEDS in Brooklyn

Claire Chase plays Marcelo Toledo at Roulette, Brooklyn

I confess. These first two photographs pre-date 2014, but I really wanted to include these two very special New York musicians whom I did hear this last year but could not photograph.

Brooklyn resident, Miles Okazaki, is a fabulous gutarist. He also is the son of one of my oldest friends: a graduate school roommate at Penn with whom I spent many a memorable evening in the 1960s in those long-gone Philadelphia jazz haunts, Pep's and The Showboat.  Here he plays his transcription of the Bud Powell solo, Wail [1:19].

Also based in Brooklyn, Claire Chase co-founded ICE, the International Contemporary Ensemble, in 2001 and won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2012. She and her fellow performers of ICE--some thirty strong--focus on contemporary music of a wide variety and challenging range of styles. Here she plays Edgard Varèse's Density 21.5 [4:40].

Màiri Mason in Union Square

Màiri Mason, actress and bagpiper, here talks briefly [1:52] about the fundamentals of her instrument in a video by Gary Ditlow.

Miriam Leah at Bethesda Terrace, Lower Passage, Central Park

Seattle-born and now Brooklyn-resident Miriam Leah, opera singer and actress, performs widely in this country as well as Europe. Here is a video recorded in Delray Beach, Florida, [3:07] of her singing "Quando Men Vo" from Puccini's La Bohème.

Tenor Sax on West 65th Street

Mösl Franzi & the Ja Ja Ja's at 23rd Street and the East River

On a hot, sunny June day down in Alphabet City, Zum Schneider's Bavarian Bierhaus served beer and bratwurst, Mösl Franzi and the Ja Ja Ja's played polkas, and the crowd watched Germany edge the USA in a World Cup quarterfinal match. 

Paul Winer (Sweet Pie) in Union Square

Now in his early seventies, Quartzsite, AZ resident and nudist boogie-woogie pianist, Sweet Pie, aka Paul Winer (#realsweetpie) came to the Big Apple for a gig at Joe's Pub in September. Naturally, a visit to Union Square for a warm-up act was in order. Accompanying Sweet Pie on harmonica is Will Pirone.

You may watch "the baron of bare-assed boogie-woogie and blues" perform his gig at Joe's Pub here in its entire hour-and-a-half, or get a brief sample as he plays My Nothing back in his Arizona bookstore [2:22].

Salvation Army Bell Ringers, Rockefeller Center

In 2014, red kettle donations to the Salvation Army were down throughout the United States.  A quick search gave me articles to that effect for entire states--Massachusetts was one--as well as for regions and cities, like the Napa Valley, San Diego, Minneapolis, Madison, Boise and Beaumont, Texas.

I guarantee, however, that the red kettle at the edge of Rockefeller Center had no trouble filling up.  These guys absolutely rocked.  Here's a YouTube video [3:15] that you will not want to miss.

Avram Fefer exercising his tenor, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Lower East Side

Avram Fefer is a major jazz saxophonist, composer and teacher, here simply enjoying a summer evening and keeping his embouchure in good shape.  Avram graduated from Harvard before studying music at Berklee College and the New England Conservatory. 

What a treat to hear his rich tenor sound subdue the traffic noise on East Houston Street.

Tycoon Dog in rehearsal, Naumburg Bandshell, Central Park

There's always something happening in Central Park's Concert ground, the area that opens up between the Mall, a long promenade to the south, and Bethesda Terrace to the north. In fact, because this space is so expansive, many activities constantly compete for attention here. As I walked through one Friday afternoon, this Tycoon Dog rehearsal/sound check was taking a break in preparation for a free concert from 4:00-6:00 pm. 

Here's a sample of their music, a piece titled Buffalo [11:26].  

Before we move on, allow me a few words about the Naumburg Bandshell.  It was donated to the City by Elkan Naumburg and opened in 1923. Naumburg was a banker, among other talents, and E. Naumburg & Co., which he founded in 1893, was among the largest Wall Street banks.  Its main rival was Goldman Sachs.

I can't help weighing this small bit of Elkan Naumburg's philanthropy, still visible and serving New Yorkers over ninety years later, against the tendency toward invisibility of his rival. Goldman Sachs' new headquarters at 200 West Street assiduously avoids naming the firm anywhere.  But then, invisibility may be the best strategy for a corporation that received $115 million in tax breaks and cash grants as well as a subsidy of $1.65 billion in tax-exempt Liberty Bonds to offset the costs of building its new headquarters. And let's not forget that this same corporation cynically and deceitfully exploited its own clients in the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

America as well as Wall Street could use a few more Elkan Naumburgs and many fewer Lloyd Blankfeins.

Randy at the Broadway IRT, West 96th Street

Djembe Drummer on the Lexington Avenue 6 Train

The Djembe drum originated in West Africa and was used, traditionally, as a participant in the major social occasions of a village or tribe and in reconciling community differences. Only much later, and as it was imported to the West, did it become an instrument for performance.

Accordionist, Lexington Avenue 6 Train

Luisito y sus Bandoleros Norteños, 138th Street Station, Bronx

These two photographs reveal a growing group of Mexican musicians known as Norteños. The term originally designated Mexicans in California prisons who lived and operated north of Bakersfield and who looked with disdain on the Sureños from southern California.

I suspect that the term now simply denotes the fact that they have emigrated to and live in the north. The music, musìca norteña, is basically the Mexican Corrido, a form of narrative ballad in which they sing of love, daily life, and sometimes of oppression. 

Most Norteños would prefer the opportunity of a full-time job over playing in the subway, but as one said to his interviewer:  “Our babies have to eat something; we have to eat something.”

Silvie Jensen, House Concert on East 37th Street

Mezzo-soprano Silvie Jensen is a singer whose every note seems effortless. She is a performer known for her wide range of repertoire, whether early, classical, opera, contemporary, or experimental. 

In order to sneak the above shot with my small, pocket camera, I took one of three overflow side seats in this elegant and exclusive town house.  Even though Silvie's web page (which I link to her name, above) offers several short videos, most of them are taken with a fixed camera at a distance. All reveal her gorgeous voice, obviously.  However, to enjoy the full effect of her physical beauty and her expressiveness as a dramatic actor, I recommend that you select The Arianna Project that she lists under "Baroque" works, and then watch from 0:00-1:27, and from 4:11-4:38.

Soup & Sound

Alex Waterman, Cello, House of Andrew Drury & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

This photograph and the following seven document a very different kind of house concert; it goes by the name of Soup & Sound.  Drop in, have some food and drink, put a contribution into an urn passed around by the Drury's young daughter, then find a seat and listen to an evening of improvised jamming by musicians from five continents whom Andrew Drury invites (or who invite themselves).

The cellist seen here in the background is Alex Waterman, who is working on a PhD in musicology at NYU.  Here is a video portrait with sound of Alex, made by R. Luke DuBois [2:09].  

Agustí Fernández, House of Andrew & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Agustí Fernández is a major avant-garde pianist from Spain and a leader of improvisational jazz in Catalonia. In this video from 2008, he plays his composition, Aurora [4:34].

Agustí Fernández & Jane Rigler, House of Andrew & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Jane Rigler teaches music at the University of Colorado and experiments with expanding the range of sounds to be made on the flute--with and without electronics. In essence, she is creating a new vocabulary for the instrument.

The Calling, recorded in 2012, has her bringing in all sorts of outside recordings from street vendors in Kyoto to the sounds of Alaskan humpback whales; but this is only audio [7:39].

For a visual, you may see her in action in this attempt to "choreograph" sound and its diffusion via bodily movement: InTouch (for moving flutist and electronics) of 2009 [10:10].

Andrew Drury, House of Andrew & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Andrew Drury, the host of Soup & Sound, turns his drums into filters and amplifiers for the vibrations produced by foreign objects placed on the drum head and then manipulated.

Going beyond simply being a junk percussionist, Andrew  offers some interesting sociological connections between what he does on his drums and the treatment of minorities that he witnessed in Bridgeport, CT.  I'll let you explore this on your own here, as it draws us away from music-making and into the conceptual realm of theory; but to get a sense of Drury's musical manipulations, I direct you to this site: Click on TOTEM New Languages Festival 2008, clip #3. 

Ricardo Arias, House of Andrew & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Ricardo Arias lives in Bogotá and is an Associate Professor at the University of the Andes in Colombia, South America. Although he studied flute, most of his music is electronic and computer-driven, as we see in the above photograph.

He also makes music with various found objects, amplified by piezoelectric transducers, and is known, in particular, for creating and playing an instrument made from several rubber balloons.

Miriam Felix, House of Andrew & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Cellist Miriam Felix, according to her quite minimalist web page, locates herself in Minorca, Barcelona and London. 

I kept encountering difficulties accessing the music videos from her web page, so, rather than providing you with one of her more avant-garde free improvisations, I offer you an audio of Miriam, accompanied by clarinet and accordion, in something far more traditional--a luscious version of Ástor Piazzola's Libertango [6:33]

Reuben Radding, House of Andrew & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Reuben Radding is an active street photographer as well as a bassist. He grew up in Washington, D.C. and now resides in Brooklyn.  

Jason Crane offers an extensive interview with Reuben from April of 2014 in his Jazz Session series #435 [1:11:00].  One also may access audio clips from several of Reuben's albums at this link.  

Soup & Sound Series, History from Nov. 2009-June 2014, House of Andrew & Alyssa Schwartz, Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Finally, to give you a sense of the commitment to this Soup & Sound Series, I photographed this on-going documentation of musicians and dates, which began in November 2009.

Ellery Eskelin, Ellery Eskelin Trio, Cornelia Street Cafe, Greenwich Village

John Hébert (bass), Ellery Eskelin Trio, Cornelia Street Cafe, Greenwich Village

Ellery Eskelin was born and raised in Baltimore. He began playing the tenor saxophone at the age of ten. But as far as I am concerned, after a glance at his bio, his baptism in jazz must have come from his mother, Bobbie Lee. I say this because she played a Hammond B3--that iconic instrument that spawned the jazz organ trio in the 1950s--even if she took her repertoire from the Great American Songbook, not jazz.

John Hébert, here playing bass with Eskelin, was born and raised in New Orleans, but now lives in New York. Here is a video of Hébert playing solo bass in 2009 at McKeown's Books in New Orleans [5:10].   

As a sample for Eskelin, I have selected a promotional video made in 2013 that combines performance and personal recollection titled Trio New York II [9:22]. 

Carla Kihlstedt plays Lisa Bielawa at The Stone, East Village

Carla Kihlstedt & Lisa Bielawa, The Stone, East Village

The Stone is a not-for-profit artists' performance space in New York's Lower East Side. It was founded in 2005 by John Zorn. Each month, a different guest curator is chosen to book its performances.  

Composer and singer Lisa Bielawa curated the month of August 2014. Carla Kihlstedt performed one evening that month, playing Bielawa's Kafka Songs (2003).

Kihlstedt is a violinist, vocalist and composer, now living in Cape Cod, MA, whose performance ranges widely from contemporary classical to art song to hard rock. On her website, she characterizes her work in this way: "My music lives in the fertile places where genres overlap and aesthetic values transmute. I play the violin, sing, improvise and compose, sometimes at the service of a simple song, and other times, a large-scale all-encompassing performance."

An example of the latter--an all-encompassing performance--is Necessary Monsters, seen here in a video trailer [15:35] from San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center (July, 2011).

David Rubenstein Atrium:

Carla Kihlstedt, Independent Music Awards, David Rubenstein Atrium, Lincoln Center

Matthias Bossi (Bass Harmonica/Piano), Independent Music Awards, David Rubenstein Atrium, Lincoln Center

Devin Hoff, Independent Music Awards, David Rubenstein Atrium, Lincoln Center

The David Rubenstein Atrium is one of many Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) in New York which serve as community gathering places for any and all.  The Atrium is located on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets and is part of the Lincoln Center campus.

Besides being a LEED Certified "green" building designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the Atrium offers free weekly performances curated by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.

The three above photographs document a performance by Rabbit Rabbit, a musical duo of husband and wife, Matthias Bossi and Carla Kihlstedt. As winners of the "Eclectic Song" category of the Independent Music Awards for 2014, they performed at the Atrium on September 25.

Matthias Bossi, seen here at the piano, is also a composer and percussionist. Here is a video of Rabbit Rabbit, playing their composition, The Curious One [5:33].

Coming up from Philadelphia to join them for this free performance at the Atrium is friend and bassist, Devin Hoff. For a sample of his work, here is an audio of Devin, on solo bass, playing his composition, Regeneración [3:06].

Sonya Hensley & Friends at Ceetay:

Sonya Hensley & Friends, Ceetay Restaurant, South Bronx

Sonya Hensley & Friends, Ceetay Restaurant, South Bronx

While South Bronx Ignites sponsored a major block party on Lincoln Avenue in June, 2014, Ceetay contributed a more quiet note a block east by inviting jazz singer Sonya Hensley to perform on the sidewalk in front of its restaurant, which makes some of the best sushi to be had anywhere in the city.

Sonya Hensley, Sonya Hensley & Friends, Ceetay Restaurant, South Bronx

Sonya Hensley, Sonya Hensley & Friends, Ceetay Restaurant, South Bronx

Sonya Hensley came to New York from Louisville, KY, to dance in the Alvin Ailey troupe, but soon turned to singing jazz, as she states in an interview of 2007 [5:02].  Frequently appearing alongside Les Paul, and here she celebrates his 92nd birthday at the Iridium Jazz Club in 2007, she also recalls the earlier formative influences on her by Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. In a later video, we see her singing Van Morrison's Moondance in 2011 in Shanghai [6:42].

Bruce Edwards, Sonya Hensley & Friends, Ceetay Restaurant, South Bronx

Listen to guitarist and arranger, Bruce Edwards on this guitar solo of April, 2014, at a gig in Bobigny, a northern suburb of Paris [1:42].

Steve Weiles (drums), Sonya Hensley & Friends, Ceetay Restaurant, South Bronx

Wayne Batchelor, Sonya Hensley & Friends, Ceetay Restaurant, South Bronx

Acoustic and electrical bassist, Wayne Batchelor, began his career in London before coming to New York City.

New Jazz Standards, Appel Room; 
Jazz at Lincoln Center:

The Appel Room, Jazz at Lincoln Center, View of Stage, Central Park, and West 59th Street

Located inside the Time Warner Center, the spaces of Jazz at Lincoln Center were designed by Uruguayan architect, Rafael Viñoly and opened in 2004. 

With amphitheater seating accommodating 483 people and a 50' x 90' window looking east over Columbus Circle and Central Park, The Appel Room is one of New York's spectacular spaces.

The Appel Room, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New Jazz Standards: Guillermo Klein (piano), Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Reid Anderson (bass), Eric Harland (drums), Bill McHenry (tenor sax)

This was a quintet of composers, each of whom was asked to write two tunes that might become "jazz standards" for the 21st-century. In other words, the hope of this venture is that some of these tunes will attain the sort of distinctive melodic and harmonic structure that every jazz musician will want to know. Jon Pareles explains this concept in a New York Times article and review of May 18, 2014. 

The Appel Room, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New Jazz Standards: Guillermo Klein, Carla Kihlstedt, Reid Anderson, Bill McHenry, Eric Harland

Here are the five musicians: Argentinian Guillermo Klein (piano); Carla Kihlstedt (whom you already have "met"); Minnesotan Reid Anderson (bass); Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone); Eric Harland (drums). 

The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub:

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Joe's Pub, named for Joe Papp, the founder of the Public Theater and connected to the Public Theater on Lafayette Street, is an important venue in which to hear young artists as well as established artists as they develop and present new work.

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir has become, as it describes itself, "a radical performance community based in New York City, with 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands." 

Anybody who has seen Billy and the Choir in action recognizes them as one of the great shows of our time. Their gospel-based singing is infectious and spiritually uplifting, and their message is vital to the maintenance of a free and democratic society. 

Reverend Billy is a performance artist. But he is so much more than that.  Reverend Billy takes performance art out of its comfortable shell of narcissism, turns it into a mirror, and so forces the outside world to confront its own complacency and disastrous behavior

These last photographs document a few moments in a show based on the demise of honeybees as a result of chemically-intensive modern agriculture, in particular its use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and on the Harvard-designed "RoboBees" intended to replace our natural bees that are dying.

I consider these photos an appropriate crescendo with which to conclude this blog post.  Enjoy.

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, The HoneyBeeLujah Show, Joe's Pub at the Public, NoHo

Finally, for my die-hard readers, here are a few chosen lyrics from some of the songs they sang:

Shopocalypse:   “Will we survive the fire, the Shopocalypse? Will we feel the hell in the shopping list? The neighbors fade into the supermall The oceans rise but I...I must buy it all..."

Climate Change Blues:   “Climate changed me when I lost my only job,   Climate changed me when my mom began to sob,    Climate changed me when the storm tore off the roof,    Climate changed me when the sky told me the truth.... Climate changed you when the springtime makes no sound..... Climate changed us when the flower lost its bee ..... We always knew that we would have to change    But do we have to die?  Die to change?”

Flying:   “I got apocalypse fatigue,  My honeybee and me,  Where’s my home hive gone?   Where’s my sweet, sweet tree?...

Revolution:   “Are you just a voyeur, armchair warrior,   Clicking on petitions while they actively destroy ya?   Corporations clutch us with their tentacles,   Caught in knots unless we make a spectacle,   Droning and drilling sanctioned by politicians,   Stop scratching your wounds and start itchin’ for a mission,   Save the world by acting hyperlocally...”

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