In the late 1950s, I moved into a loft on Grand Street between Clinton and Suffolk. I used to go to Ratner’s to pick up pastries for my wife, Lucille. On her way home from work, she used to visit a man named Izzy and his wife, who ran a pickle store on Suffolk near Grand. We bought our chickens at a kosher butcher next door. We were welcomed on the Lower East Side, as an interracial couple. The rest of the world isn’t like that. That’s a special place.
The problem was that I had no place to practice. My neighbor on Grand Street was the drummer Frankie Dunlop, and his wife was pregnant. The horn I’m playing, it’s loud. I felt really guilty. One day I was on Delancey Street, and I walked up the steps to the Williamsburg Bridge and came to this big expanse. Nobody was there, and it was beautiful. I went to the bridge to practice just about every day for two years. I would walk north from Grand Street, two blocks up to Delancey Street, and then from Delancey Street down to the entrance of the bridge. Playing against the sky really does improve your volume, and your wind capacity. I could have just stayed up there forever. But Lucille was supporting us, and I had to go back to work. You can’t be in heaven and on earth at the same time.
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James Gavin, journalist and author of Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker