Friday, March 30, 2007

Brass Band: Underground Horns

Underground Horns playing

Underground Horns still playing after intense 3 hours

Interview with the Underground Horns

Artists: Welf Dorr (alto sax), Nick Gianni (baritone sax), Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen (trombone), Michael Irwin (trumpet), Gunter Gruner (drums)
Medium: Alto saxaphone, baritone saxaphone, trombone, trumpet, drums
Location: 42nd Street Times Square near the S platform

The Underground Horns are a band, if you can even call them that (they haven’t actually chosen a name, yet). In truth, as spectacular as the Underground Horns are, they are new to playing in this form. Generally the Horns, which have not officially chosen that name, play in a group of 40 and not in the street. This incarnation, though is composed of five members:

Gunter Gruner, from Germany, plays the drums and got into music “by accident.” His father had a drumset at home and one day just he started playing for the rest of his life.

Welf Dorr, from Munich, Germany is on the alto sax. He started playing music with the piano but decided he liked the sax after listening to it. Aside from being a member of the Underground Horns he also plays with another band - Funk Monk.

Nick Gianni was born and raised in NY and “he’s what you call a multi-instrumentalist.” Because his Grandfather played sax Nick decided to play guitar…and bass…and violin…and banjo until, at last, he came back around to play the baritone sax with Underground Horns.

Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen is from Vermont. Like many of the others, her music is a family affair. Her father played trombone so she got into it too.

Mike Irwin hails from Washington Heights and plays the “ribadee”, A.K.A. the trumpet. He also describes his music as a “family thing” including his “dad, uncle, mom [and] third cousin.”

The five play together a lot but usually in standard venues and at gigs in a group of about 40 people. The street thing got started when Welf called Mike about a week ago and this is only their second or third time playing together in the subway.

The Underground Horns are a pretty tight group and each cites the other members as their inspiration and musical influence – cross pollination they call it. They characterize their music as fun/spiritual.

The Horns also have one of the more unique reasons for playing in the subway. There is, of course, the money but, if you can believe their sarcasm, they also play for “celebrity sightings” and to meet other musicians. The Horns find it fun to play in public because there are all sorts of people, children and hecklers. Also, as Mike points out “it’s good to show people that there are other things to do besides go to work.”

Like what you hear? Hire ‘em
You can get contact with the band through the following members
Elizabeth Dotson-Wesphalen:
Nick Gianni:

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Buckets, guitar and vocals: The Cocksmen

Rafael and John playing

Interview with Rafael and John

Artists: Rafael Leyva (buckets), John Reagan (Guitar)
Medium: Buckets and guitar
Location: Union Square Station on the L platform

Street Performance: A Primer (It’s their first day)
A testament to the reality of street performance, Rafael and John lost their jobs three weeks ago and decided to play in subway because they “heard that you could make money that way.” So how do you start playing on the street?

1. Motivation: “We’re, uh…trying to get money from all these strangers ‘cause we lost our jobs two weeks ago and it’s really cold so it’s hard to get a job as a server.” “We’re trying to pay rent.”

2. Ability: John and Rafael have no formal training. “I used to play drums back home, but fuck it.”

3. Equipment: “We stole this bucket from my building, that’s his guitar and I found this [bucket] in a corner of Chinatown.”

4. Courage: “We started in the other corner kind of embarrassed but then we figured, like, we really don’t care what people think – as long as our moms don’t see us.”

Rafael Leyva is from Chicago and by trade he is a filmmaker. John Reagan is from Puerto Rico and by trade he is an artist/painter/actor. Together they are The Cocksmen, a two man sketch comedy troupe which, as of now, occasionally plays music in the subway.

Now that you know what it takes what are you waiting for? Go play in the street!

Like what you hear? Think they could be funny? Check out
They influences – The doors and punk music
Their sketch comedy routine The Cocksmen or

Really like what you see? Contact
John Reagan – or
Rafael Leyva –

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cello and Drums: Break of Reality

Break of Reality playing

Break of Reality playing

Break of Reality discusses their musical influences and how they got started

The members of Break of Reality talk about how they got into music and their band's message

Artists: Patrick Laird (tall Cellist), Chris Thibdeau (Asian cellist), Erin Keesecker (female cellist), Ivan Trevino (drums)
Medium: Cellos and drum
Location: Union Square in front of the statue

Break of Reality is a five person group (including the manager) which puts together the sounds of three cellos and a drummer to play music most never expect to hear on classical string instruments. Although Break of Reality is inspired by classical music, they play a fusion of everything they can think of, from metal, to rock to Middle Eastern. Aside from original pieces, much of what they play are actually covers of groups like System of a Down and Metallica.

Break of Reality comes out of the Rochester University Eastman School of Music, an acclaimed music school in the United States. As of this interview the cellists in the band are each in their fourth year of majoring in cello and the drummer has already graduated in Music Performance. Jesse, their manager, is also a third year studying piano. The band got started when the members met each other in the cellists’ Freshman year three years ago.

Patrick Laird (tall cellist) hails from Midland Park, NJ. He started playing cello in the 4th grade when his school required students to play an instrument. His sister had played viola but since Patrick is “kind of a big guy” he went for the cello. In high school Patrick decided he wanted to play professionally and has been moving toward that goal ever since.

Chris Thibdeau (Asian cellist) is a native of Newtown, CT. He got into music in 3rd grade during a summer program known as SMART. Although he can’t remember what the acronym stands for anymore, Chris knows the program had a huge impact in him because after that he ended up majoring in cello.

Erin Keisciker (female cellist) is from Deland, FL near Orlando. She started playing the piano at the age of four and moved over to cello at around eight or nine.

Ivan Trevino (drums) is the only group member to have graduated from Eastman as of yet. He comes from Victoria, TX and says he got started with the drums at an early age. When Ivan’s father, who headed a gospel band, heard him banging on cabinets he thought: “wow, we really need to get a drumset.” And how right he was, Ivan has been playing drums ever since.

Jesse the manager says “Hello.” Not much is known about this elusive member of the group; only that he studies piano and handles all the “nitty gritty” business aspects of the band – truly a must have member of any group.

Since its formation the band has been greeted with success and has played in various places - from business conferences to schools to weddings and, of course, on the street. Although they are accustomed theaters, Break of Reality says it never passes up the chance to play on the street when it’s in New York because it’s both great exposure and a lot of fun. Playing on the street allows them to perform in front of thousands of people, expose the public to a new kind of sound and, as Erin points out, “that’s the great thing about New York, you can turn almost any location into a performance spot.”

Break of Reality is committed to its art and plans to move to New York this May to keep playing after graduation. Along with their music they hope to bring a simple message: “Listen to more instrumental music, expand your horizons and, if you play an instrument, break boundaries.”

Like what you hear? Check out
Their main influences – Any classical music, Unearth, System of a Down, Metallica

Really like what you hear? Buy the CD or hire them

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hay Sculptures: Michael

Interview with Michael

Originally uploaded by concretebeat.

Some of the sculptures

Originally uploaded by concretebeat.

Some of the sculptures

Originally uploaded by concretebeat.

Some of the sculptures

Originally uploaded by concretebeat.

Some of the sculptures

Artist: Michael
Medium: Hay sculpture
Location: Union Square near 14th street and University Ave subway entrance

Michael is from the south of Poland and describes his art as a sort of new local tradition. The sculptures Michael makes are all made from hay which is worked into and around a wire mesh body. Smaller, constituent pieces of the hay animals are made separately and attached to the body with glue. Michael does what he can to keep the sculptures close to nature, however, and notes that he makes the animal’s noses out of black beans.

Michael says that he picked up hey sculpting just by being around it. When he came to the United States to study, he started making them for fun and for a little pocket money. Each item sells for between $7 and $20 depending on the size.

Like what you see? Contact Michael and order some hey sculptures

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Traditional Jazz/Swing - Guitar, violin, bass, vocals: The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn

The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn playing

The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn playing

Interview with The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn

Artists: Chris Pistorino (bass), Chris Meyer (violin), Billy McNeil (Guitar and vocals)
Medium: Guitar, bass, violin, vocals
Location: Union Square by 16th St and Union Square West

The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn are a traditional jazz/early swing group, a rare treat even in New York City. The members of the band featured here met each other playing on the streets of New York but hail from all across the country. We’ve got: Brooklyn attitude from Chris Pistorino, Detroit skill from Chris Meyer and Nebraskan oomph from Billy McNeil. Wherever they come from all of the Vipers of Brooklyn are here to play. “The best place to play music, really, is in the city,” it’s an expensive place to live but you get a lot of work, explains Chris Pistorino.

Each Blue Viper has his own story.
Chris Pistorino wanted to play guitar as a kid but when he started a band in grade school he realized they needed bass. He took the role himself and realized he liked it.

Carl Meyer plays violin because him mom played the Cello. He didn’t want to play what she plays but wanted something similar – it’s that simple.

Billy McNeil says that, like everyone else in the world, he wants to be a rockstar, hence the guitar and vocals. Unlike most rockstars, though Billy learned “everything [he] know[s] on the streets of New Orleans” and stays true to his roots with his music.

The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn serenade the public at large for a variety of reasons, although when asked what brings him to the streets of New York Billy glibly replies “the Grey Hound bus.” Transportation aside, “it’s better money than half the gigs in NY…most places pay $50 and a meal for a gig…we just made $130 for 3 hours. As long as you have energy, you make more money playing on the street than you do in a gig.” Additionally the Blue Vipers like playing outside because it’s a different vibe and they get to meet people from all over the world.

Like what you hear? Check out
Their influences: Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, New Orleans street musicians

Really like what you see? Contact them through
Their website
Or call 718-599-5441

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bachata -Guitar and Vocals: John Anthony

UPDATE: John Anthony has been signed to a new Latin music group. He's down in Florida making his way in the world. Kudos, John Anthony.

John playing

John explains his story

John talks about his musical aspirations and influences

A discussion of the definition of Bachata

Artist: John Anthony
Medium: Guitar and vocals
Location: 6th avenue L stop

Once I met this guy from Puerto Rico. He came to the US directly after high school with a promise from a band called Groupo Extreme. Unfortunately it was a lie, when he arrived in New York there was no one waiting for him and he was forced out onto the street. Luckily, though, his music skills had him earning enough money to get into a room and have him fed inside of four days. Now he's staying in NY hoping for a break while he plays on the street.

This guy is John Anthony, a very talented Bachata/R&B singer. As noted, Groupo Extreme came to Puerto Rico to sign his talent. Upon advice from his grandfather who was skeptical of the band, John finished high school before coming to the States only to find that Groupo Extreme was not there waiting. Even so, John is upbeat and thanks God for his musical talent. So far he’s been in the US about four months and has been able to get off the street, get an agent and has begun pursuing several deals although nothing is set yet. He hopes to be on La Mega in a few weeks.

Although he’s fallen on some hard times, including $500 worth of fines for playing with a permit, John is determined to stick it out and find his way in New York. He feels it would be selfish to worry his grandfather, who suffers from a heart condition, with his troubles. Although this leads him to another dilemma, he must lie to his grandfather to spare his health.

John describes his music as Bachata mixed with R&B. He started vocal lessons when he was seven and began singing pop but fell in love with bachata the minute he heard it. For those of you who don’t know what bachata is, John describes it as and urban-Latin music which is “a mixture of like, a ballad and Salsa but in slow motion.”

Like what you hear? Check out
John’s Influences: Barrio Boys, Boys II Men, Frankie J, Az Yet

Really like what you hear? Hire John

 Subscribe in a reader

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Trumpet, keyboard and Vocals: Subway Steve

Subway Steve playing

Interview with Subway Steve

Subway Steve sings and plays the trumpet and the keyboard all at the same time. This wasn’t always the case though, he’s only been doing it for about 30 years since he “accidentally put them together when [his] brother suggested it.” In those 30 years Steve has done a number of different things but making music has proven to be his favorite.

Steve doesn’t only play in the subway, he’s done restaurants and art shows as well; in fact, he played at the last art show at the Javits Center. However, true to his name, the subway is his favorite place because, as he’s keen to point out, “I’m the boss!” Not only does he get to make his own hours and about as much money but, believe it or not, he has a greater sense of control over the environment. In the subway there’s a different kind of tension than in a bar, he explains. In a bar, if someone comes over and wants to be stupid, the owner’s on their side whereas in the subway it’s even. Steve enjoys this free nature of the Subway. “They didn’t pay to come hear me play. That means that anyone who listens, it means that they want to.”

Subway Steve describes his music as uplifting and, occasionally, humorous. He says his inspirations are anything that give people hope and that any genre of music can do that.

Like what you hear? Contact Steve and check out

Really like what you hear? Go hunt for him
Favorite hangouts – midtown, 42nd St., 59th St.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Alternative Blues - Guitar and Vocal: Luke Ryan

Luke playing

Luke Playing

Luke playing

Interview with Luke

A quick plug for Luke's music production biz - Hootch Studios

Artist: Luke Ryan – Mocombo Lounge Productions
Medium: Guitar and vocals
Location: 42nd Street Grand Central Station by the S train platform

Luke Ryan is a funny guy with a quick wit, but you’ll really have to watch interview to see what I mean (it’s that first one liner that really kills). Hailing from Georgia, Luke now lives in Astoria, Queens where he runs Hootch Studios, a home based recording studio and writes his tunes.

Luke got into playing because “like any old hippie [he] wanted to be Jim Morrison.” To that end he taught himself to the play the guitar and began to write music. Luke notes that one of his reasons for playing in public is the same reason that American Idol is so persistent, people just want to be heard. In his case, in the subway, “you create your stage, if you can’t find a stage, you bring your stage with you.” The other reason is playing in the subway is an “opportunity to play long, long hours, get the chops up and still make money…theoretically.”

Luke typically plays at Grand Central by the L train about twice a week but can also be found around the city. Aside from this, Luke runs a recording studio for $70 per production.

Like what you see? Check out
Luke’s influences – Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, Leonard Cohen

Really like what you see? Need a studio? Contact Luke

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Percussion (Buckets): Larry Wright

Larry Playing

Interview with Larry and Sonya

Larry Wright is a born drummer. When he was five he was living in a “little hotel place” with his mom. When she told him to empty the garbage from a bucket, he ended up turning it into an instrument. Now he makes a living playing in the streets and subways.

Aside from drumming, Larry has brought his other love with him to the street – his wife. It’s fitting really, the two met in the street while he was playing and have been together for 13 years since then. Now they’ve come full circle and Sonya plays with her husband, making music with him for the general public. Larry has taught Sonya everything she knows about drumming and at the time of this interview she had been playing for about 6 months.

Larry and his wife play in the street 7 days a week. They play for a living and to be discovered. Personally Larry believes the government should enact policies to encourage musicians, give them places to play and help them succeed but that doesn’t mean he and his wife don’t love the street; they have tons of fans who give them love. “A lot of people look forward to us…they say we inspire them…they have a hard day of work, they come home, they smile and see us before they get on the train.”

Larry and Sonya are both from the Bronx and are raising a brand new Bronxite names Clarise. On the day of taping it was Clarise’s birthday so…Happy Birthday Clarise!

Like what you hear? Check out
Larry’s influences - Ayane, Tito Puente, Max Roach, Buddy Rich
Other vids: Larry Wright

Really like what you hear? Hire Larry and Sonya or go hunting for them yourself
Usual hangouts - 4+5 trains and L at Union Sq Station, 34th St Station, 42nd St Station, 59th St and Lexington Ave. Station.

 Subscribe in a reader

Friday, March 9, 2007

Breakdancing: Mike and Scoogie from DDT Entertainment

Mike and Scoogie breakdancing

Mike and Scoogie breakdancing

Mike and Scoogie breakdancing

Introduction to the show (no dancing but no NYC dance show is without one)

Interview with Mike and Scoogie

Artists: Mike and Scoogie – DDT Entertainment
Medium: Breakdance
Location: Times Square station near the shuttle

Mike and Scoogie are members of DDT Entertainment, a Bronx based operation. Their style of dance incorporates elements of breakdancing, capoeira and gymnastics which makes their shows especially dynamic and entertaining.

Mike fell in love with breaking and performing the moment he saw it and decided to do it himself. Fortunately, his brother had a group and he joined them and refined his craft. Mike, now a master of his art, teaches others how to break in his own group as his brother once did for him. Mike truly loves the art and says he’d like to teach the whole world for free.

Scoogie is Mike’s student and attests to Mike’s skills as a teacher. Scoogie enjoys the fusion breakdance/capoeira/gymnastics he does because he believes it is on the cutting edge of hip-hop culture. Scoogie admires Mike’s talent and joined his group to learn to perform and entertain better.

Scoogie and Mike dance in the Subway for exposure, pocket money and the entertainment of the people. Although they love their art Mike takes a practical view and says “[dancing] is a hobby, you also gotta have a job to fall back on.” Regardless, Mike and Scoogie are proud of what they do and encourage everyone to “always think positive, never negative. What we’re doing down here, we’re doing something positive, not down on the corner or robbin’ or stealing. Always find something positive – keep that in mind.”

Like what you see? Contact them and hire ‘em for a gig

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Origami Ornaments: Jeremy Walker

Interview with Jeremy Walker

Origami Ornaments
Originally uploaded by gruevie.

Some of Jeremy's pins, earrings and sculptures

Origami Ornaments
Originally uploaded by gruevie.

More of Jeremy's work (click to enlarge)

Artist: Jeremy Walker
Medium: Origami
Location: Union Square by 14th St. and University Ave.

Jeremy Walker makes origami earrings, necklaces, pins, ornaments, large models and window displays, table settings; you name it. A native Brooklynite, Jeremy’s been doing origami since he was seven. When people ask him how he learned he tells them it’s not hard, they could do it too, just go to the library and get a book on origami. Just don’t read the instructions.

Jeremy initially went to college for medical illustration. The field was tight, however, and Jeremy left college after his 7th semester to pursue his own art. He understands that a lot folks are afraid to go out on a limb to pursue their artistic passion for fear of rejection but that’s not his mentality, “you have to be out there as an artist, you have to show your stuff.”

Jeremy’s origami is all dipped in polyurethane or made from Mylar. As a result his paper constructs are durable and water resistant.

Aside from selling his work at Union Square, Brooklyn Heights Park Slope, Jeremy’s work is also sold at the American Museum of Folk Art and he does parties, weddings and other work on demand.

Like what you see?
Jeremy Walker often sells in Union Square, Brooklyn Heights, by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

Really like what you see? Contact him and get some origami

Monday, March 5, 2007

Drums, xylophone, bells: Sire the Purifier

Sire the Purifier playing the drums

The essence of street art - Sire the Purifier plays and a random passerby joins his beat with a rap

Interview with Sire the Purifier

How birds inspire music: A look at a hidden skill - storytelling.

A message from Sire the Purifier

Artist: Sire the Purifier
Medium: Drums, bells, xylophone, squeak toys, flutes
Location: 42nd Street Station in 123-ACE connector

“Never underestimate the power of love to conquer hate.” So speaks Sire the Purifier.

Sire gave himself his name when he started playing music. One day, when he was feeling low, Sire picked up a harmonica and began playing with it. “It changed my mood so wonderfully [I thought] wow, this is what music does to you.” To Sire, music is like medicine, it’s cleansing and uplifting; that’s why he calls himself the Purifier. Never one to play a sad song, Sire tries to keep all his work upbeat to rejuvenate himself and the people who listen to him.

Sire’s music is as eclectic as could be imagined. He plays with flutes, drums, bells, a xylophone and even sqeak toys and claims hip-hop, jazz and R&B as influences. However, he says he strives for a “universal sound.” To this end, Sire’s main influence is nature – especially birds. Sire is inspired by birds because they are naturally made to sing and he never takes their songs for granted. (See two of Sire’s folktale-ish stories about how nature has inspired him in video above to text at the end of this entry.)

Sire is originally from Brooklyn but his great-great-great-grandparents hail from Ghana. The colors he wears are Ghanaian.

Sire’s Story
Once upon a time Sire the Purifier was walking through his life. In this life he met many animals, but none more amazing than a little wild sparrow. Sparrows are a particular lot, they come out to eat and drink but at the sight of another animal they are quick to retreat. So you can imagine Sire the Purifier's surprise when, walking through a woodland, he encountered a sparrow that was not afraid of him. Well, Sire the Purifier knew just what to do - he put that fearless sparrow up on his shoulder and brought him down into the subway. Once in the subway Sire the Purifier took out his drums. "Bom" he went, "tweet" went the bird. "Bom-bom," "tweet tweet." And with that Sire the Purifier went into a musical frenzy. Arms flying, legs shaking, drums bomming, bells jostling - making noise to his heart's content. To Sire the Purifier's amazement, the little wild sparrow sung with his beats. The two makde music all day until the the sparrow took his leave and Sire the Purifier put his drums back on his cart to go home. From that moment on Sire the Purifier never took a bird's song for granted again. Don't believe me? Listen to him tell it himself in the video above.

Like what you see?
Unfortunately the only way to meet someone like Sire is to find him in the subway. If Sire does decide to release contact information you can bet it will be here first.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Soprano Sax: Leviticus Gory

Levidicus playing Take 5

Leviticus playing Serenade in Blue

Interview with Leviticus

Artist: Leviticus Gorey
Medium: Soprano sax
Location: 14th Street Station on the uptown 1,2,3 platform

Aside from having an awesome name, Leviticus is a third generation New Yorker from Manhattan. He graduated from Julliard on classic flute and picked up the saxophones while studying jazz as an extension student at Manhattan School of Music. What you hear here are his alto-sax skills.

For Leviticus, playing in the subway is therapy. When he plays in clubs he’s gotta play popular stuff, but playing in the subway gives him a chance to play “something I like and is classic and maybe other people can identify with.” Although Leviticus has a lot of his own tunes, he particularly likes to play classics, ballads and showtunes.

Like what you hear? Check out
Influences - To many to name but select three: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, George Coleman

Really like what you hear? Contact him for a gig

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Cello and Beatboxing Flute: Greg Pattillo and Eric Stevenson

Cello and Flute playing

Interview with Greg and Eric

Artists: Greg Pattillo (flute) and Eric Stevenson (cello)
Medium: Flute, beatbox vocals and cello
Location: Union Square station on the 6 train platform

Greg Pattillo and Eric Stevenson define themselves as “acoustic instrumentalists” which, incidentally, is a “nice broad genre.” Avoiding confinement, the duo slide from classically inspired music to rock rhythms and even to some hip-hop flutations.

Greg, A.K.A. Beatboxing Flute, comes from Seattle and started flute lessons in the fourth grade. Although a righteous soul, he admits that he works for the man when he’s not playing music and laments that a person has “gotta get health insurance somehow.” Eric, a full time musician, hails from Kentucky. Initially starting on the violin, Eric decided at age three that he preferred the cello.

The two play music in the subway because for dinner money, because “it’s cold outside,” and to unleash their new music on a ripe, unsuspecting public. Greg explains the market economics driving their musical innovation: “people pay for what they like.”

Like what you see? Check out
Eric and Greg’s Influences – Charles Mingus, Gustav Mahler, Led Zeppelin, Ludwig Van Beethoven
Also see Greg’s other work under the name “beatboxing flute.” Here are some samples with beatboxing in them:
Inspector Gadget Theme
Super Mario Bros. Theme

Really like what you see? Get in contact, book them for a gig

 Subscribe in a reader