I was sitting on a bench in Verdi Park at 72nd street watching Michael play the bongos accompanied by recorded music. I waited for him to take his break and then went over to him and told him about my blog. He was interested and we began to chat. His professional name is Jazz Inc. Now aged 74, he always knew he wanted to be a musician. And he is not just a drummer. He works with other musicians to help them get contracts with record companies and arranges gigs for them to play in a variety of venues. He showed me his permit from the New York City Parks Department giving him permission to play in Verdi Park. However, having a permit doesn't always mean that he will be able to play. The previous week he had a permit to play in Bryant Park. He was stopped by a cop and told to stop playing. He produced the permit, but the cop said he would have to check it out with his supervisor. The cop returned, stating his supervisor said he could not play here. Michael left, losing a full day of possible donations.
In the late 1960s, Michael frequented Greenwich Village, playing at small coffee houses and the basket houses at a time when the Village was the hot spot for folk and jazz musicians. In the basket houses, musicians or poets would take the stage, which was often nothing more than a space at the end of the coffee house, perform for 15-20 minutes without pay, and then pass a basket around. People would put in cash depending on how much they liked the performance. Many folk singers got their start this way, including Dave Van Ronk, Richie Havens, and Bob Dylan.
Michael was born in Harlem and has lived his entire life in New York City. He has resided in all five boroughs. He grew up in Harlem and is now currently living in Jamaica, Queens. Of course, I mentioned that I attended Jamaica High School. Sharing some of my life always helps in making connections.
Michael was married for ten years before his wife passed away. He never remarried. He has three children. One daughter lives in Switzerland, studying pharmacy, and his two other children live in Texas. He has close relationships with all of them and although he does not see them often, he speaks with all of them frequently.
He told me he is looking for a photographer to take headshots for promotional purposes and covers for his CDs. I told him that I could do that for him. I explained that I often make prints of people I photograph and give them out when I see them again. In fact, Mr. Maestro, whom I photographed earlier this year was at the other end of the park playing his electric keyboard. I had given Mr. Maestro his prints, and I would do the same for him. He was grateful and offered to pay for them. I told him "No charge." He took my card and said he may have some paying friends who are looking for a photographer.
Michael commented that the City is not like it used to be. Although he said he loves the people and the excitement of the City, there was a time when a musician could leave his instruments on the street for an hour and not worry about them. Not anymore.
Music for Michael is his passion and his life. He will continue playing on the streets of New York, allowing him to get out every day. This is what keeps him young and happy.