Thursday, June 28, 2007

Musical Saw: Natalia Paruz

Natalia playing

Natalia playing

Natalia playing

Natalia talks about how one picks up the saw

Natalia talks about her style of music

Artist: Natalia “The Saw Lady” Paruse
Medium: Musical Saw
Location: 42nd Street Times Square by the S train

Born in Israel Natalia came to the United States many years ago with her parents. Once here, she began training for a career in dance with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Unfortunately, her career was cut short when she was hit by a taxi. While she was trying to figure what she was going to do with her life post-accident, her parents took her to Austria to cheer her up. There, Natalia saw a show in which a man played the saw. Captivated by it’s unique sound and mesmerized by the distinctive dance like quality of the saw’s full-body motion, Natalia decided that she would learn to play the saw, if just for fun.

After the show, Natalia approached the saw player and asked if he would teach her his art. “No,” he said. Turning down Natalia’s money he told her “’pick up a saw, imitate what you’ve seen me do on stage and you’ll figure it out’, and he was right.” Thus, Natalia taught herself the saw.

Natalia started her training on an old carpenter’s saw. Due to rusting, however, the saw could only play six notes. In search of better instruments, Natalia went to a hardware store and began testing their saws (to the bewilderment of the owner and shophands). Having accumulated 17 different saws, Natalia finally has isolated her “ultimate saw.” It’s the one she plays in the subway, capable of playing two octaves, outfitted with a comfort enhancing handle and stripped of its teeth which, as Natalia learned the hard way, make it a weapon worthy of a $150 fine; regardless of what you’re using it for.

Natalia began playing in the street about 14 years ago and in the subway in the winter of that first year. Initially apprehensive about playing underground, she quickly found that she loved it for two reasons. First, having playing in Avery Fischer Hall at Lincoln Center and a variety of large orchestra houses across the world, Natalia swears that the Subway has the “best acoustics ever”. Second, Natalia loves the people and finds the proximity to them intoxicating. “When you’re on stage you’re up there in the lights and the people are in the dark and you don’t really connect. In the subway…you can see the transformation of their faces…it is so nice, it feels like you’re getting so much love. Like a collective hug from the city.” Despite a happy career of playing in orchestra’s, recording studios and movie soundtracks, Natalia plans to play in public forever.

Even when Natalia is playing gigs, she makes the effort to get out in public and has played in some of the most illustrious streets of the world, including Paris, Prague, Rome and Tel Aviv. “I love it because it gets me to connect with the people of the country.”
In Prague, for example, Natalia didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and generally felt like a stranger. After half an hour of playing, though, she had tons of friends, people inviting her to go places and started picking up the language. “[B]efore I knew it, I felt at home there.”

Natalia plays a variety of music. Although much of it has a classical feel she plays a of lot original works which her husband composes which range from pop, to jazz to new age tunes. Natalia does enjoy playing classical music a lot, though, especially since, as a saw player, she has the ability to introduce people to it in a new way. Case in point: once Natalia was playing her saw for a group of teenagers on the 1, 2, 3 platform at Times Square. When she finished the group broke out in applause and asked what she had played. When she told them it was Choral Prelude by Bach they responded “this was classical music? No way! Classical music is boring, this was cool.” Apparently it took some convincing before they accepted it really was Bach’s work.

Natalia is active in the saw community organizing saw player gatherings every year. She plans to keep playing forever.

Like what you hear? Check out
Natalia’s influences - Sam Moore (a famous saw player from the days of Vaudeville when saw were popular), Clara Rochman (a theramin player), Jacqueline du Pre (a cello player)

Her website -,
Her blog -,
Her myspace -,

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Violin and Viola: Calebe Arruda and Earl Dean Alexander

Calebe and Earl playing

Interview with Calebe and Earl

Location: Union Square Station (Calebe's interview), Grand Central Station lower level by the coffee bar (performance)
Artists: Calebe Arruda (violin), Earl Dean Alexander (viola)
Medium: Classical violin

After 25 years Calebe still can’t pin down the reason he came to New York, “the music, I guess” is his answer as he shrugs. Calebe comes from Rio di Janero, Brazil. After a little warming up, though, he explains that he left Brazil when he was 19 because “I could not be a musician in Brazil,” citing that 25 years ago things were very different from today.

A classical Spanish guitar player since the age of eight, Calebe decided to branch out and began to teach himself violin five years ago. Now he splits his time between the two, playing the guitar, which has mastered, and challenging himself with the violin, which he is in the process of mastering.

Calebe has been playing in the subway for about 22 or 23 years but also plays gigs, including weddings, parties and the like. He also teaches music. Caleb plays in the subway for mostly for self-promotion and to meet people. He likes playing in the subway because it’s “contact with real life. In a concert people put on a mask.”

Influences: Bach

Earl Dean Alexander is from Brooklyn. Although he started on the violin when he was 10 and a half, Earl plays viola, which he’s been studying since he was 15, with Caleb. Earl studied violin under the tutelage of Sylvia Bedford Anderson and studied viola at the Henry Street Music house under Alexander Richter who was assisted by Manny Molton.

Earl met Caleb at the Mendelssohn night club where Caleb asked him to coach him on his violin. After working together for a while Caleb invited Earl to play with him through Music Under New York. Although he would rather be playing the violin (his first instrument), Earl says that “it’s more a credit to [Caleb] to play the viola, so I never complain about it.”

Earl has “got a lot of satisfaction out [playing in the subway]” but his main job is as Assistant Minister of Music at Bethany United Methodist Church and as an accompanist at Song Service and Sabbath School at Mount of Olive Methodist Church. For both he plays the piano, violin and viola.

Like what you hear? Check out
Caleb’s influences – Bach

Really like what you hear? See Earl Dean Alexander play
975 Bushwick Ave., Brooklyn - Prayer Service Wednesday evenings at 7:15; Song Service Saturdays at 9:15 and Sabbath School at 9:30

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Folk rock and freestyle rap: Ande Sedwick, Yoriko Fukui, Tyreke, Trip

One of Ande's songs

An Ande encore

Insane freestyle rapping

Interview with Ande, Yuriko, Tyreke and Trip

Location: Washington Square park by the fountain
Artists: Ande Sedwick (female guitarist), Yoriko Fukui (female drummer), Tyreke (male drummer), Trip (male guitarist)
Medium: Folk rock, rap

Sometimes I think it’s really lucky that I’m around to capture impromptu music that would otherwise have been lost to the ages. Generally speaking the artists feel the same way. My meeting with Yoriko, Ande, Tyreke and Trip was one of these times.

Initially I found Yoriko and Ande rehearsing for a gig. It wasn’t really clear they were performing, there was no tip collection device and they weren’t being very loud, but since someone was watching them I figured I’d what I do best and start filming. As it turns out they weren’t performing, they had met less than a week earlier and, since Yoriko had agreed to drum for Ande at a gig that Friday, they were practicing together for the first time.

That all changed, however, when Tyreke and Trip entered the fray. Having just met each other a few hours ago, they were ready to throw down and jam; and that’s exactly what happened. After accompanying Ande in a few of her songs, Trip then led the group in seven minutes of uninterrupted freestyle hip-hop rap combining Ande’s soulful voice and guitar with his own chill rhymes and six-string skills, all laced with the improvisational drum skills of Yoriko and Tyreke. Check it out, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a good thing I was there.

Ande Sedwick: Although she loves rap, Ande is usually a folk rock kind of singer and hails from Indiana near its border with Kentucky. She’s been singing and writing music for quite some time but taught herself guitar only three years ago after figuring that if she’s gonna sing she should play guitar as well. Ande has a penchant showmanship and spontaneity, especially making up lyrics on the fly (you should have heard her at the gig on Friday). However, she says that sometimes it takes a little prodding to get her to play in the street since it’s a “risky and gutsy” kind of art. She admits, though, that “it’s fun and I’m having a good time.” Ande has come to NY to pursue a career in Music.

Yoriko Fukui:
Yoriko the Salsa Drummer comes to us all the way from Tokyo, Japan. Originally a salsa dancer, Yoriko hurt her knee and was unable to continue down that path. Luckily, her friends convinced her to turn her rhythmic abilities to the drums, which she now plays with much fire. Yoriko is only in the U.S. for the summer but she comes nearly every year. Currently, she’s taking drumming classes in Harlem. she has also studied in Cuba. Normally she plays gigs with a salsa band back in Tokyo.

You might not know it from his accent but Tyreke was born in St. Croix Virgin Islands. Now a resident of Newark, New Jersey he brings Washington Square Park some across-the-river flavor. Tyreke comes to New York for atmosphere and the music, describing himself as a “connoisseur, I’m like a sponge for music and I absorb it all.”

Tyreke is a staple in Washington Square Park and has played with a number of musicians there in the past. Interestingly, Tyreke’s friend loaned him the money on this very day to get a set of drums so he could get back in the habit – and look what happened. “It’s been a stoned trip, yo.”

A self-proclaimed local stoner, Trip “come[s] out to New York City for its beautiful jazz music and beautiful vibe.” Like Tyreke, Trip comes across the river from Asbury Park, NJ but says he’s hitchhiked around the country and “represent[s] every single beautiful place, every good vibe, every beautiful person.” Trip says he got into the guitar at a peace protest in Washington, D.C. about 10 years ago and it’s just stuck with him.

Like what you hear? Hire the artists
Ande Sedwick:
Yoriko Fukui:
Tyreke: 973-622-4549 or 973-622-2755
Trip: or

Poppers and Breakers: Float Master John, Slip, Most, Tiny Love and Nikita

Some unique tricks (keep you eye on the cigarette)

Look ma, no feet

Some really tough breaking manouvres and a nice matrix

Only in New York: The group pulls a random kid from the audience who can actually dance

Interview with the Float Master John, Slip, Mos, Tiny Love and Nikita

Location: Union Square by the University Place and 14th st. train entrance
Artists: Floast Master John (all black), Slip (Tan T-shirt and hat), Most (white shirt), Tiny Love (white guy)
Medium: Breaking, rocking and popping

When I first ran into these guys they were trying to set up in Union Square. Unfortunately, the cops weren’t having it. For about an hour and half the group waited in Union Square for an opportunity, even attempting to set up across the street. Apparently, a fellow who lives in Union Square is good friends with the Mayor and doesn’t appreciate loud noises in the square. This makes it difficult for artists but particularly difficult for breakers who use amplified music and, according to Float Master John, have a hard time getting permits from the police. After a lot of waiting I left with the promise of meeting up with the group later. When I returned to Union Square later that day, however, I was happy to see that the gang had caught a break and was just starting their show.

Dressed entirely in black, Float Master John makes dancing look easy. But then again, he has been in the game for 35 years. A specialist in floating, moonwalking and other insane tricks (including his patented smoking routine), John has danced in the street and on stages for most of his life. Despite a long career, Float Master John is constantly looking for improvement. “[I dance in the street for] feedback from the crowd. [the] New York city crowd…gives the best feedback. It’s honest, it’s critical…if you’re good they’re gonna tell you, if you’re not good they’re gonna let you know. So it’s better I get someone who’s truthful about criticism [and] this is the hardest crowd.” John explains that the group met from doing gigs, practicing in public and seeing each other on the street. Now John performs on the street as a hobby and regularly teaches the skills he’s acquired at Boy’s Helpburn and O. Henry.

Influences: James Brown, Michael Jackson.

Jerry A.K.A. “Slip” comes to dance all the way from Elmont, LI (that’s pronounced Lawn Guyland). In HS. Jerry got into breaking by watching movies. When he and his friend saw a guy actually dancing, his friend decided to ask the guy to teach him. It wasn’t long before Jerry got into it. At the urging of his friend, Jerry began breaking in the street and met his current group. After two and half years of dancing, Jerry comes out for fun and to continue learn.

Influences: Breaking I and II, Wild Style (movies)

Z A.K.A. “Most” lives in the Bronx but was born in Bahia, Brazil. Z has performed all over world in places like Germany and Paris. Z says he got into Breaking because everybody in his village used to practice capoeira and he wasn’t into it so he learned breaking by watching videos. After teaching himself, he came to New York for “like, the vibe and everything, the music…I mean, like the [breaking] movement is actually bigger over here compared to where I’m from. This is the place to be…We got capoeira but it’s not really the same.” Z keeps it real, he performs on the street because he can feel the crowd and because it’s where he comes from. He may perform on the biggest stages but he still has to bring it to the street because that’s where be comes from. Z is laid back about what he does, after 10 years of dancing and DJing, he explains that art is to “give people that smile…[maybe] get a few dollars but it’s no big deal about it, [it’s] just chillin’ I mean it’s summer time, it’s so nice.”

Influences: Capoeira and kung fu movies but mostly himself and his imagination.

“Tiny Love” came to America from communist Romania. Tiny got into breaking in the 80s in Romania. Took classes occasionally but mostly taught himself through watching videos. Came to New York with his mom who left Romania to find a future. Loves dancing on the street – “it’s a great feeling. This is a street dance, it’s not Broadway…this is my passion.”

Influences: Old school dance like Soul Train

The group also likes to randomly pull kids from the audience to join them in a dance. Today's lucky youngster is Nikita:

Nikita is the type of talented random participant you can find on the New York streets. He comes from Russia where he and his friends got into breaking. After seeing some shows after he moved to Canada, he started taking classes for real when he moved to New York. This resident of the Lower East Side has been breaking for about a year.

Like what you see? Take some lessons with
Tiny Love at PS 93: 917-713-6319 or
Float Master John at two schools in Manhattan: 646-752-6554

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