Category Archives: Blues

Suzanne Vega playing to the crowd at The Village Trip

What a Trip!

The Village Trip 2018

Bathed in glorious late September sunshine, on the last weekend of September Washington Square Park and the surrounding streets were a mecca for all those who appreciate the history and heritage of Greenwich Village and who want to celebrate and preserve it. From its Thursday evening launch at the historic Washington Square Hotel to Sunday’s closing folk festivities at the fabled Bitter End, The Village Trip honoured some of the many figures whose careers were born in the Village and who went on to leave an indelible mark on the world.

Among them: David Amram, multi-instrumentalist and composer, who arrived in the Village in the 1950s and who has worked with such diverse and revered figures as Leonard Bernstein, Charles Mingus, Arthur Miller, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Hunter S Thompson, Joseph Papp and Jack Kerouac, with whom he performed the first ever jazz/poetry readings in 1957.

The Village Trip was honoured to feature David Amram as Artist-in-Residence and he performed with energy and generosity at every event. He said:

“I am basking in the glow of an AMAZING event that you somehow put on and made into a MIRACLE!!!!!

“Gearing up for next year and will do anything i can do to help (if you need any help in fundraising and need entertainment or furniture moving or whatever!)

EVERYONE I spoke to and who spoke to me LOVED EVERYTHING that took place!!

“You should be as proud of what you dreamed of and DID, and know that we are all equally grateful.

“WHAT A TRIP!!!

“It was a true honoring of dear friends no longer with us and honored and inspired many young creative people today who are here and who will redefine that spirit in their own way!”

David Amram

A full Village Trip album plus video clips will be published shortly. Meantime, here’s a few photos that capture the flavour.

From left: Musicians David Massengill, Diana Jones (and Birdie), and David Amram; Thom Duffy of Billboard; Arthur Levy, journalist and musician, and wife Andrea; and Joel Siegel, lawyer, musician and executor of photographer David Gahr in the Lobby of the Washington Square Hotel following the opening party

Artist-in-Residence David Amram makes his Village Trip debut with ‘Amazing Grace’ at the opening party

Professor Cecilia Rubino of the New School (center, in blue) and actors following the performance of scenes from Eugene O’Neill

From left: Vic Juris, Andy McKee, Joanne Brackeen and Billy Harper, jazz maestros and faculty from the New School, come together for a unique concert celebrating Jazz in the Village

Right: Jazz students from the New School play a late-night Jazz Jam with David Amram

Standing room only for Professor Lucy McDiarmid’s lecture on Edna St Vincent Millay,
‘Kissing in the Village’

David Amram with daughter, musician Adira Amram, and actress and film producer Suzanne Hayes-Kelly, following their performance of Jack Kerouac jazz/poetry

Pianist Yoshiko Kline and saxophonist Ken Radnofsky perform the world premiere of David Amram’s Greenwich Village Portraits. In the background, Conrad Kline’s accompanying film plays

Bringing It All Back Home to Washington Square: VickiKristinaBarcelona win an enthusiastic reception as they open the proceedings; Suzanne Vega doffs her top hat to the Village, where she came to fame; Martha Redbone, all the way from Kentucky via Brooklyn, wows the crowd as the sun sets over the Washington Square Park. David Amram, who sprinkled his special brand of magic at every event, offers an entr’acte performance of Phil Ochs’ touching ‘When I’m Gone’

Talkin’ New York Folk Revival, a heartfelt celebration that conjured up the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and many others, took place at the legendary Bitter End on Bleecker Street. The Village Trip finale, it featured Tom Chapin and the Chapin Sisters, Happy Traum, Diana Jones and David Massengill, with Michael Mark on bass. David Mansfield, fiddler star of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, was the special guest and the irrepressible David Amram sprinkled yet more magic, recalling encounters with Guthrie and many others. 

Many thanks to everyone who helped make The Village Trip happen, not least our sponsors and partners, and all friends and family whose support and love enabled us to launch this cherished project. Thank you also to the many people, in the Village and beyond, who helped – artistically, practically, logistically. Please know how deeply we appreciate your time, patience and kindness.

We couldn’t have done it without you. 
See you all for The Village Trip 2019!

It was a time! Playing the Night Owl

Ian SeebergIan Seeberg and his band the Gingermen played Joe Marra’s legendary Night Owl in the 1960s, one of many clubs around the crossroads of MacDougal and Bleecker

Every night the streets of Greenwich Village in the 1960s were filled with a riotous blaze of neon lights and patchouli oil; a teeming, bell-bottomed sea of peace and love with no shortage of feathers, headbands and beads. Wherever you looked indelible images appeared: a darkened doorway becoming an impromptu stage for someone to muse mystically on a native flute, fervent chanters intoning through clouds of incense, strange figures emerging out of the night fog of Washington Square looking like lost Indian scouts for General Custer – and all of it set to the endless soundtrack of ringing guitar music pouring from clubs up and down the streets.

Continue reading It was a time! Playing the Night Owl

Gone to look for America – it’s all there in popular song

The world “knows” America by its music. People who’ve not visited and perhaps never will conjure up images of cities and one-horse towns from the lyrics of endless songs.
It’s just not the same in Britain: everyone knows that Paul Simon wrote “Homeward Bound” on Widnes and Ditton railway stations en route from a gig in Liverpool, and many recall the novelty number “Finchley Central” by the New Vaudeville Band, which immortalised a few miles of London’s Tube. Donovan wrote about “Sunny Goodge Street” – but it had nothing on Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning”. No light pouring in “like butterscotch” in London SW3 – and probably not in NY 10011 either, but it sounds so much more exotic.

With the exception of “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and “Waterloo Sunset,” few songs so evoke a city as “(I Left My Heart in) San Francisco”, or “Chicago (My Kind of Town)” and “New York, New York” – and there are two of those to choose from: the Bernstein/Comden and Green number from the 1944 musical On the Town, where “the Bowery’s up and the Battery’s down,” or the Kander and Ebb title song from Scorsese’s 1977 movie.

Heading west…

Sometimes the visions we conjure up are more exotic than the reality. “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa” is a case in point. On Route 66 it may be but you wouldn’t get too many kicks – though you could now visit the Woody Guthrie Center. (I often try re-imagining the song as “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulse Hill,” a dreary South London suburb – even more absurd.) “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” Last Train to Clarksville,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” (let’s not go there), “Okie from Muskogee,” “Graceland”, “Walkin’ to New Orleans” …. There are endless songs of love, longing, regret, moving on…. All so evocative.

Even when the places themselves are not! I remember my first trip to the States, heading south on Highway 101 at the wheel of an AMC Concord, excited at the approach of Salinas, famous from “Me and Bobby McGee”. But California’s “salad bowl” was distinctly unexciting and somehow I missed John Steinbeck’s house. But never mind, in the City by the Bay, whose views still make me cry, I stood in the pouring rain at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury and wished I had at least a flower behind my ear.

Battery, Broadway, Bleecker…

I came later to New York though its streets too were familiar from life’s musical soundtrack: from the New Jersey Turnpike to the 59th Street Bridge, down Broadway (where “the neon lights are bright”) to Delancey Street (not even “very fancy” now, so obviously a Rodgers and Hart joke) and west to Bleecker (“where thirty dollars pays your rent” – ha-ha!), which crosses MacDougal (cue Fred Neil’s “Bleecker and MacDougal”) and then across to West 4th, where Bob and Suze lived over Bruno’s Spaghetti Parlour – “Positively 4th Street.”

The opening scene of Wonderful Town walks you straight into the Village, as two gals from Columbus, Ohio follow a guide down Waverly Place, past Washington Square to Christopher Street. Even tiny MacDougal Alley gets a mention (Betty Comden and Adolphe Green were downtowners; so too Leonard Bernstein for a while). Turn on to Sixth Avenue and the subway – and you can take the A-Train, (“the quickest way to Harlem”) and revel in Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. The George Russell Sextet immortalised “121 Bank Street”. Rufus Wainwright looked forward to rainbows on “14th Street”.

Lucy Kaplansky, part of the 1980s and ‘90s Fast Folk movement founded by Jack Hardy and Dave van Ronk and which coalesced at the Cornelia Street Café, wrote in “Nowhere” of
Walking downtown
Eighth Street, Washington Square
Stepping carefully
In the footprints someone left there

For me that sums up Greenwich Village perfectly. There are footprints everywhere. I can’t walk into the marble lobby of the Washington Square Hotel without thinking of those who tramped the stairs or rode the elevators when it was the Hotel Earle. Countless writers have stayed – Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Patricia Highsmith and Maeve Brennan to name but four – and countless more musicians. Bo Diddley, a regular (a signed photo is in Tatyana’s laundry just opposite), actually played a gig in the lobby to mark its centenary. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott stayed, as did Bob Dylan (mostly in room 305). He hunkered down there with Joan Baez, who immortalised it in “Diamonds and Rust”, her reflection on their celebrated love affair, as “that crummy hotel over Washington Square.” Roger McGuinn wrote “Chestnut Mare” in room 707. In a single day, Ian and Sylvia wrote “Four Strong Winds” (regarded by many as the best song to come out of Canada) and “You Were on My Mind.” And on a cold winter’s day, when the sky was grey, John Phillips wrote “California Dreamin’.”

Hotel Chelsea – eat your heart out!

Downtown, where all the lights are bright…

Music was what drew me to the Village, which existed in my mind’s eye and ear long before I set foot there in 1995 to report on the sessions at the late lamented Bottom Line (torn down by NYU) with Joan Baez and friends – Ring Them Bells was the resulting album. I’ve been staying at the Washington Square Hotel – now a charming family-owned home-from-home – for years and the romance of it never goes.

As I wander the streets, I don’t need a gizmo to hear the soundtrack – it’s embedded in my brain. Two songs are often on repeat: Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” (though the references are to Clinton Street in the East Village) and Tom Paxton’s “Last Thing on My Mind.” Those lines about the Subway rumbling… Sometimes I hear Paxton’s voice singing it, other times Judy Collins’. It’s there as I descend the steps of the West 4th Street station to take the D Train, hoping perhaps for a whispered escapade…