9 Great jones street
In a roundabout way, when I finally moved to New York, Cecil McBee led me to moving into a six story 1900 loft building in Noho full of a quirky mix of artists, performers and eccentrics.
Cecil McBee and I were in the army together. Six months after getting discharged in 1962, I got this gig at the Hobby Bar. Five nights a week for a year. Then I got Cecil to come to Detroit for this trio gig with me and George Goldsmith on drums. Sometimes George Bohanan and Marcus Belgrave would come and play with us. At first Cecil lived at my mother's house while I lived with my wife Shirley and her family.
Then Denny Zeitlin, a psychiatrist/pianist from San Francisco, came to town and Cecil went to work with him for a couple of weeks. It worked out so good that Cecil went with him to San Francisco and then to New York. And that's how Cecil got to New York before me! And when I finally got to New York with Damita Jo, Cecil was living at 9 Great Jones Street. I met Nat Jones through him and took his place in Danny Siro's loft with Nat Jones.
9 Great Jones Street was my New York home for many years. But I was on the road so much …. I lived between LA and NY from 1969 until 1979, travelling with OC Smith and then Lovelace Watkins.
Great Jones Street is East 3rd Street between Broadway and Bowery and then it was a very trendy, artsy, downtown neighborhood. A couple of carpentry stores in the alley right next to us, a great restaurant across from the bank on the corner. We lived right across the street from a building where a famous Japanese writer lived and worked. Towards Bowery, that's where Victorious (Victor Lewis) lived and was our neighbor; Across Bowery, a halfway house. Directly behind our building at 2 Bond Street was the Ladies’ Fort, a jazz loft run by Joe Lee Wilson and his wife Jill, where all the "free" musicians would play experimental music and eat Joe Lee's food. Across the Ladies' Fort there was a bookstore which still exists and has expanded. On Shinbone Alley junk was sold and movies often were shot there. Next door lived a woman painter who gave wild parties, receiving her guests in a bathtub on the floor in the middle of her loft.
Picture of the site of the Ladies Fort on Bond Street .
Kirk, Jill and Joe Lee Wilson many years later in Paris
Our favorite restaurant and hangout called the Noho Star down Lafayette Street near Houston St. is gone now as are many good friends of that time, including Joe Lee and his historic loft.
The loft I lived in belonged to Danny Siro and his wife and Nat Jones was already there. Danny Siro was a Fuller Brush salesman. After his gig, around 2 or 3 pm, he would come back to the loft where he had all the walls from floor to ceiling filled with records in perfect alphabetical order, and every day he would play his records in that order. This was to have a reason for them being there. It drove everyone else crazy. Also, he was fanatical about his index cards and had all these LPs cross-indexed by song on each record, by artist, by record company, even by the length of the songs. He owned a polished saxophone which he didn't play, but the ownership of the instrument gave him the right to critique what the other musicians in the pad were doing.
Danny and his wife (with 2 cats, Diz and Bird) would eat everything, pigs’ feet and even chitterlings and the smell would become a problem for the roommates. Coached by Bennie Maupin, Nat Jones and I had become strict vegetarians. Fresh salad would sit in a wooden bowl with other vegetables chopped up and added in a special order – carrots first.
While in Florida, Danny got sent to jail for possession of marijuana. He stayed there 2 years. During that time, Nat Jones moved to Danny's part of the loft, in the front, and I moved from the LP room to Nat Jones's. We listened to all the records in disorder!
Nat Jones was a pianist who later took up singing. He practiced ALL the time. He always seemed to have a gig, either as a musician or as a yoga teacher. He taught yoga at the School of Visual Arts for 20 years. I used to sit in on his classes when I was in town. Jazz singer Patty Waters was one of his students.
In the loft below us (3nd floor) lived the fantastic Paul von Ringelheim. I called him Saint Paul. He was a successful artist and sculptor (born in Vienna, Austria), who knew Picasso well. He had the most modern loft in the building. He had money, I guess from his family and from his success. He made his loft a beautiful living space. He was my friend and he would visit us on the 4th floor and listen to us practice, come to the parties and even cooked for us in his lovely place. He had the latest design in furniture, great paintings on his walls, top listening devices and he cooked pretty good. His loft contained his art studio, which looked down on 9 Great Jones Street where the sun came in. Sometimes he went to France to visit with his family there and see Picasso. He travelled around a lot while his rival upstairs would be off teaching out West some place. When he was away his sister took over his loft and threw her parties. His loft was impeccable while our loft was kind of funky. Paul had girlfriends; when he invited us to meet them, we were surprised because for a while we thought he was gay. He was a quiet, funny guy, very wise with his jokes, dressed in the latest style but with distinctive artistic flair. He would come to our gigs even way before Bradley's; he would go to the Five Spot to hear Mingus and Monk. Plus he would invite us to his side of the art world.
After I left the loft, we would still meet up. Sometimes we met up in L.A. He remained very successful. He even dedicated a large sculpture in a building in NY. Once he came to visit us in Paris. We remained great friends until his death in 2003 in Venice.
Collage of Kirk's profile by Paul Von Ringelheim done when he visited us in Paris
In the loft above us (5th floor) lived Toby Tobias, a sculptor of sorts, jealous of Saint Paul. Actually, he was jealous of all of us. In his youth, he was an art teacher travelling all over the States to small towns. He would go away for months and then come and tell me about his trips. But he was jealous of me who travelled all over the world. If Nat Jones would practice piano one minute over 10pm, Toby would start dropping things on the floor.
After hearing Nat Jones playing piano for 40 years, Toby lost it the day Nat started singing. He put in speakers on the floor to cut out Nat's singing. He even went to court to request a court order for noise disturbance.
Then Nat Jones accused Toby Tobias of poisoning him through the floor. He called the Board of Health but they never found anything. Years later after I left the loft, Nat had to move out after not paying rent for 8 months.
On the 2nd floor lived John Vicaro, a member of the Living Theater who also made porno theater. He was a friend of Tony Williams who used to visit Vicaro once a week. One day when Tony heard us playing upstairs with Peter Warren (we always had drums set up near the piano), he came up and then played with us on several occasions. That's how I got to know him. Surprisingly enough, when he played with us, he played very gently, not the bashing-ramping drummer that you heard when he played with Miles or with his own band. But I never asked him why.
Finally, on the top floor (6th floor) lived two actors, Scott Glenn and his friend. One wanted to become Steve McQueen. The other one was a film director who got lost into acid. They brought in the set from a movie and built 2 grottoes in their loft, along with trees and foliage. One married a model but never became a great actor, the other one died in acid.
Then there were dancers. Meredith Monk, a prominent downtown dancer from a wealthy family, gave dance classes right over Toby Tobias's apartment. He forced her to leave. Then a seamstress took that space. She made costumes for plays and operas.
Downstairs there was a little snack bar on the ground floor, but for some reason we never went there.
A lot of people began gravitating around us at 9 Great Jones Street. Bennie Maupin was there a lot, also Sunny Brown, a drummer I met in the army, at the time playing with Roland Kirk. But he ended up as a chauffeur because he never could bring himself to play with anyone else. The bass player Peter Warren hung out with us: I called him my white shadow. I also met George Coleman there when he used to come to see Nat Jones to watch porn movies, sometimes from John Vicaro's work. My old Detroit high school bandmate and friend Ira Jackson also hung out at 9 Great Street. An address I’ll never forget.
6th floor Meredith Monk Dancers then seamstress
5th floor Tony Tobias
4th floor Nat Jones, Danny Siro, Kirk Lightsey & co.
3rd floor Paul Von Ringelheim
2nd floor John Vicaro
1st floor Snack bar