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Consolations

The ubiquity of construction along the High Line and all its attendant noise, fumes, shadows, blocked views and dark spaces have been disconcerting for some years now. New projects large and small have transformed this once quiet, meditative place into an alley of incessantly loud, commercial energy. Real estate, New York City’s oldest business, is flourishing everywhere you look. The little surprises that made the High Line such a delightful place have slowly faded into the background of shiny, zesty new architecture.

But every so often you get lucky, and it happened to me this evening. It was a crazy windy day in New York. There were little waves on the Hudson River — a surfer’s paradise for small, watery creatures. On the High Line, which is always windier than street level, it was like being in a rainless squall. I was walking toward Gansevoort Street and just as I emerged from the 14th Street Passage there was a wonderful cacophony coming from the construction site at 40 Tenth Avenue. It was a little orchestra of clanging tones generated haphazardly by the the metal ends of those straps that hang from ceilings in construction sites nowadays. They were flailing around, hitting each other and making little bell-like sounds, sometimes in unison, sometimes in crazy rhythms that you might hear in a jazz club. This video captures just a moment or two:

There’s a story about Dave Brubeck that Stuart Isacoff tells in his book A Natural History of the Piano. Brubeck was famous for his improvisations in unorthodox meters, and according to Isacoff, his childhood experiences growing up on a 45,000 acre ranch were the source of his weird time signatures. When “your father sends you to fix a fence or start an engine, you are alone,” Brubeck recalled. “The sound of those little gas engines—Chu Chu Chu! Gitcha! Gitcha! Bu Ah Uh!—you never knew what they were going to do next. And when the horse would bring me somewhere, there was no one to talk to. So I became aware of the gait of the horse.” Isacoff says “He simply tuned in to all the rhythmic play going on around him.”

Somewhere in New York City, now that the sun has set and the night is young, a musician is channeling the weird beauty of a construction site along the High Line.

That’s a consolation.

 

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The Fabulous Judy Kuhn, Singing on the High Line

This evening, in the gorgeous October dusk, I took a walk to the Gansevoort Street entrance of the High Line to meet Ann and walk her home. What a treat awaited us in the Chelsea Passage: the incomparable, incandescent Judy Kuhn was warming up for an evening performance. With a partner I can’t identify she was singing the Sondheim heartbreaker “Being Alive.”

Take my advice and cancel your evening plans. Run (don’t walk) to the High Line. Stand outside the barricades (there’s something afoot, a dinner for Cooper Union, it appears) and treat yourself to the rare opportunity of hearing this great singer. If you can’t — if you’re in Timbuktu and the last flight has departed — go and buy her fantastic CD of Jule Styne songs, “Just in Time.” Judy Kuhn does the best cover of “Time After Time” you’ll ever hear. It’s so romantic it’ll knock your socks off. You won’t know what hit you.

At first, on my way south, I was mildly annoyed to be re-routed in the Chelsea Passage. Hoi polloi tonight have to follow the route that the dairy trains took when the High Line was a working railroad; it goes underneath the main part of the Chelsea Passage, under the wonderful Spencer Finch “River That Flows Both Ways” art exhibit. This is how deliveries were made to the National Biscuit Company building, via the “Southern Spur.” Eggs, milk and butter went in; Fig Newtons, Mallomars and Animal Crackers came out.

But I digress. The detour was more than worth it. To have caught that bit of soaring magic as the sun was setting. Well, it was priceless.

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Naughty But Cool: Jazz Band on the High Line

This jazz quintet scurried into the garden this morning for a quick photo opp. Maybe they can only read music and therefore the 8 million signs that prohibit walking amongst the plantings eluded them. Anyway, they got their photo and seconds later it began to rain on their instruments so they scurried out again, without a playing a single note.

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