Sunday, May 1, 2011


I was once a serious professional New York City musician. Those of you following along are aware of my efforts to recoup my musical skills after taking fifteen years off to build, run, and recover from my web site, When I first took my horn out of my case, I couldn't play a note.

Recovery was tough. As a teen, I'd practiced hours per day to build my technique, but these days I have too many interests to invest single-minded attention. I resorted at one point to running off to
band camp, and managed to persevere through adversities like getting my horn stolen.

The good news is that for the past six months, I've been pro level again, though not completely up to my previous level. Tonight, I played with a really hot organ trio group, and, for the first time, felt I was playing perhaps even a little better than in the old days. That was a really big thing for me. But something has changed in the intervening fifteen years.

When I played in the mid 90's, even with really top groups playing reasonably accessible music, the vast majority of patrons in bars and cafes would ignore the band. A few isolated kooks would bop their heads in time to the music, but that'd be about it. Now, in 2011, even the bopping kooks are gone. Each song ending was met with utter silence from a completely indifferent crowd. We were set up near the door, and patrons ignored us on the way out, or else glanced our way in vague perplexity, foggily wondering what we were doing with our hands and mouths. A few sneered contemptuously as they strode out. And, of course, every table within shooting distance of the musicians had cleared out immediately, their occupants grimacing in disgust, as if a nearby drunk had vomited.

We weren't particularly loud. We weren't playing crazy avante garde jazz. And these were excellent musicians, performing in Manhattan, a center of culture and urbanity. The musicians forlornly confirmed that this is what it's come to these days.

Walking through the streets of Krakow with a woman friend last winter, I suddenly ducked into a cafe, having spotted a piano inside, and played a quick song (I've also played piano professionally). The patrons dug it, as most Eastern Europeans are more sophisticated than most New Yorkers, but my date spent the entire time chatting loudly with a bartender about five feet away from the keyboard. When I was done, she looked at me wearily, as if I'd forced her to wait while I'd suddenly indulged myself with, say, a game of pinball. We left wordlessly, and, eventually, blandly resumed our previous conversation, as if it had never happened.

Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing here...

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