January 12, 2011

Shaggy Hair Boy plays Washington Square

Playing Satin Doll

The night we left from smalls (well, actually, it was more like morning by then), I said to Shaggy Hair Boy, “Maybe you should have taken a turn at the piano.” The jam session folks all seemed pretty friendly and nice: I’m sure they would have let him.

“This was our first time there,” he said. “But maybe if we come back in May, I will.”

The next day, we decided to walk to Washington Square. I figured it was probably too cold for the old men who play chess there, but it’s still a cool place to hang out and people watch. As we walked through the big arch, we noticed some guys playing hacky sack. They were incredible: one would kick the hacky sack ridiculously high, practically to the top of the arch, and another would kick it back.

The fountain was filled with ice instead of water, and two little kids were running and sliding on the ice. We sat on the edge of the fountain, the best place to absorb the afternoon sun. That’s when I noticed the piano.

It was on wheels, and the front panel was off so that you could see the hammers and strings. A young man in a dark coat was standing nearby, talking to a woman, his hands in his pockets to keep them warm, and I could see buckets of money on either side of the piano. He clearly owned the piano and was taking a break.

“You don’t often see street performers with pianos,” I said to Shaggy Hair Boy. He’d noticed the piano right away. He’s far more observant than I am.

A teenage girl walked up to the piano, tentatively, as if she couldn’t believe it was there. “Go ahead,” the man in the dark coat called out to her. “Play a song.”

She looked up, startled, and walked away quickly.

I nudged Shaggy Hair Boy. “Go ask if you can play a song.”

He grinned at me. I figured he’d be too shy, but to my surprise, walked over to guy who owned the piano. The next thing I knew, Shaggy Hair Boy was sitting at the piano, playing Satin Doll, a jazz standard. Since we’d begun our trip by taking the A train, a Duke Ellington number seemed completely appropriate.

What’s funny is that tourists walking through the arch came over and took photos of him, and dropped money into the buckets as he played. Yep, three days in the city, and my son had become a street performer.

My son, the street musician

17 comments:

liz said...

You've just made me homesick.

I love this story.

JustMe said...

how amazing!!

sherry said...

Now you *have* to bring him to New Orleans. We can show him all the jazz places here and even find ways for him to play.

Seriously, the couch is open and I have two empty beds now that one child is in college.

jo(e) said...

Sherry: He'd *love* New Orleans. We may have to take you up on that one of these days.

Melissa Sarno said...

I love that :-) And I've loved all of your posts about new york city. It is fun to see my city through someone else's eyes (and you've opened my eyes to a bunch of things) Look forward to hearing more about Shaggy Hair Boy playing the streets and clubs of NYC in the future :-)

julieunplugged said...

A pro! ;-) Once you're paid...!

Cindy said...

What fun!

Ianqui said...

Hah! That's funny. I see that guy and his piano all the time. In the summer, he's the 'house' accompaniment for the guys who do those jumping and breakdancing tricks in Washington Square. I'm always amazed that he carts his piano around, too.

Jessica said...

This is great, Jo(e) -- Love how he stepped up (err, or is it sat down?) and that people responded to him. Fantastic!

jo(e) said...

Ianqui: I'm sorry we didn't get to see you on this visit. Perhaps we can get together when we return in May. I bet your son has grown since I last saw him!

Barbara said...

How wonderful. I don't know why, but that bought a tear to my eye.

Michelle said...

Whenever you see a street musician in NYC and you want to know who they are - do a search on SubwayMusicBlog.com
The piano guy you saw is Colin Huggins, according to
http://www.subwaymusicblog.com/union-square-subway-station/buskers-look-out-for-one-another/
Incidentally, this blog is of the 'Saw Lady' - if you chance to see a lady playing the musical saw in the subway - that's her. She is very friendly, tourists always chat with her and have their pictures taken with her.

east village idiot said...

This post makes my day!! What a beautiful story and what a beautiful son.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Oh, too bad you guys weren't there last summer when there were pianos sitting around in different parts of the city just waiting for someone to sit down and play them...the Kid played the one in front of the Brooklyn Borough Hall and we saw another one at 14th and 9th near the Apple Store. It was very cool.

Very cool for SHB to be playing in Washington Square!

Chicago Friend said...

Wonderful story; love how Shaggy Haired Boy just walked up to the piano and started playing. What a great cap to your NYC adventures. Makes me yearn to visit Manhattan again, and hit some of the clubs you visited. Oh, yeah . . . and take the subway. And visit Wash Sq Pk. And . . .

jo(e) said...

Michelle: Thanks for the info! We did talk to him long enough to hear that he used to play Ultimate for Chain Lightning, which is a club team from Atlanta. But nice to know his name.

Rev Dr Mom: Why were there pianos all over the city last summer? Is it an annual event? Because that would be very cool.

Chicago Friend: You need to come out this way again. Or maybe we'll come visit you and check out the Chicago jazz scene.

Ianqui said...

Re: RDM's comment abt the pianos. It's not annual--it was a public art exhibit. I forget the details, but you could google it.