Friday at noon I have my first rehearsal with the Persuasions in Brooklyn. From Harlem, Googlemaps tells me it should take about 45 minutes. Bernard suggests I give myself an hour to an hour and a half. Just in case you get on the wrong train.Good idea. But in spite of all my anxieties about negotiating the subways, I pick up the system very quickly and make it to the rehearsal, 45 minutes early. It's a beautiful sunny day (I'm told this is the first nice weather the city has seen after a long winter) so I wander around a bit. It's a fairly industrial area, gas stations and tire shops. I find a deli and buy an apple and an orange.
Dave Revels and Jimmy Hayes show up. This is how they usually approach a song, with the two of them first working out ideas before presenting a more fleshed-out idea to the rest of the group. Dave has a lot of ideas, aspects of the song, aspects of gospel music that I just haven't considered. We try things out and after only two hours have a fairly clear plan. We part ways with plans to meet with the full group on Sunday.
Jimmy drops me off at the north point of Prospect Park, where I decide to wander around and eventually walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Jimmy's infectious bass and Dave's supporting lines ring in my ears, and I'm feeling high as a kite. I can't believe this is my life. As I orient myself and cross the street, I see a man sitting on a park bench absentmindedly holding a trumpet. He has a wide, friendly face and watches the passersby. Our eyes meet, and because I'm so happy I keep looking and smile. We get chatting and introduce ourselves. You know Spike Lee? He asks.That's my nephew. I have no way of knowing if he's lying about that, but there's no point in me gushing over that or asking for some inside dirt, so I just say, you must be really proud of him. He plays a bit of a jazz piece for me before I continue on my excursion and we wish each other well. It's my first random conversation with someone in New York.
I cross the Brooklyn Bridge, and then the road twists around so I get disoriented, find the police headquarters and sit on the bench and eat an orange while I study my map. People in New York are friendly, Bernard said over and over again. If you need directions, just ask. So a young guy with a backpack walks by and I ask him if he can show me where I am on my map. He re-orients me, and I thank him. He starts to leave, then turns around and says, hey, if you're a tourist, and you're looking for something to do, you should come to Pianos. My band is playing there tonight. So it starts another conversation, it's acoustic folk music, he plays standup bass, I tell him I'm a banjo player, and it turns out they've been lamenting the loss of their banjo player recently and have been hoping to recruit another one. What are the chances? Apparently quite good, in New York.
I weave my way to Chinatown, where suddenly I don't feel like a tourist. Sometimes I wonder if I like coming to places like this so I can pretend to be a real Chinese person, try to 'pass'. I buy a freshly decapitated salmon head and some veggies and find my way to a subway station.
It took me longer than anticipated to get home, but I steamed up the works and felt pretty pleased with myself. Charlie the bass player had said they'd be playing from 8 to 9, and it was already 8, so I wondered if it was worth trying to go out to see them.The debate ended quickly. When else will I get a glimpse of New York night life? I take the subway back to lower Manhattan but get disoriented again (I have a lot of trouble orienting myself when I come out of the subway exits), and wander for a good 20 minutes or more trying to find the place. Finally I do. The bouncer asks to see some ID (Woohoo!) and says the band is probably finished now, but lets me in anyways. I get upstairs just as I hear them introducing their last song. The place is packed – so this is where all the young white people are. Standing room only. I'm wearing my trendiest clothes, which are not nearly trendy enough. I've decided to cut out alcohol (as well as dairy) for the purposes of keeping my voice clean for recording, so I don't get a drink and feel a bit out of place just standing around by myself. But the band's set ends and I go up to Charlie, who recognized me immediately, gives me a hug and thanks me for coming. I brought him a CD, as proof that I actually do play the banjo, and he gives me the band's latest release in exchange.
My first full day in New York. A raging success, I'd say.