I never thought it would ever happen. I figured I would live here the rest of my life. A friend of mine told me that once you make it past the five-year mark you become an official New Yorker. I made it past the first five years. In that span I endured two muggings, vandalism, theft, threats from roommates, a fair amount of vibing from fellow musicians, and the non-stop mishagos that comes with living in the big town.
And it was great.
I played with some of the best musicians in the world, and I met some of its great characters. I hung out until all hours of the night. Got drunk at the West End trying to meet college co-eds, invariably failing and staggering home. There I saw Bob Berg play an electrifying sax solo and not get paid at the end of the gig. I saw Benny Green execute one of the coolest sit-ins ever at Sweet Basil when in mid-tune he replaced Larry Willis. I saw Woody Shaw at the old Star Cafe almost deck a guitar player who was pestering him. I saw Elvin Jones at Fat Tuesdays play John Bonham licks.
I lived in Manhattan in a room a little larger than a walk in closet. I lived in Brooklyn in a house with four roommates, one of whom stole from me and threatened to beat me to a pulp. A few years later I would move back to Manhattan’s Upper West Side where I lived in an apartment nicknamed “the dungeon” by my first cousin for the amount of direct sunlight it received: two minutes a day.
I played at great venues and I played at dives. In the early years I gigged at a McDonald’s where I had to climb over a steel railing to get to a piano that was encased in a loft suspended 15 feet above the restaurant. I worked at Princess Pamela’s Little Kitchen when the East Village was still dangerous. I accompanied a blues singer who would verbally abuse her yuppie clientele. I was fired for asking for a five dollar raise.
I worked at the Empire Diner on 10th avenue from 11PM-3Am on Saturday nights where I would meet my future wife. A few months after we began dating we drove across country in a Nissan Stanza that had a sun roof which we nicknamed the Stanzaterium; a drive we will reprise this August.
I played at the Village Vanguard, The Blue Note, The Village Gate, Sweet Basil, Fat Tuesdays, Birdland, Lincoln Center, and Smalls. I never played at Carnegie Hall. Didn’t practice enough.
I met my best friend in the upper deck of Shea Stadium between games of a Mets/Cubs double-header. Together we attended a myriad of sporting events. We saw game I of the 1996 World Series, a game which the Yankees lost by 11 runs to the Atlanta Braves. Little did we know that game would be one of only three Series games that the Yankees would lose in the next six years.
While I lived here the Mets won one World Series and played in another. The football Giants won three Super Bowls (!) and the Knicks, though they made the playoffs almost every year in the 1990’s, made the finals only once, losing to the Houston Rockets in seven games. Most improbably, in 1994 a few days after my first-born arrived, the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 44 years.
My three children, unlike me, are native New Yorkers. Just as I did, they will have started out on one coast only to emerge on another. Unlike me, however, they carry the cache of being from New York. They are savvy city kids who will not be easily rattled and are much greater equipped than I to deal with this move.
Now I find myself in the unenviable position of starting over. This fall, and for the foreseeable future I will be living somewhere in the Bay Area. I do not know any musicians there and I have no gigs. Part of me is relishing this new challenge. After all, I knew only one musician when I moved to New York 26 years ago. All I ask is for a good bassist and drummer, a few laughs, and the occasional gig to get me started. I know it can work — there are great musicians all over the world. There will be some where I’m going. Just got to find them.