Sunday, June 12, 2011


Julie Ryan, Sugar Painting, 2005, ink and gouache on paper 

Vision 16 Festival, Abrons Center, NYC 
11, June 2011

A week ago it was 98 degrees and this evening half that. I am walking down Market St. near the Sea Port having just disembarked the water taxi that shuttles Manhattan-ites and tourists to and from Ikea. If you subtract the preponderance of giant plastic blue swag bags burdening the shoulders of each passenger it is one of the more glamorous ways to arrive to the city. Statue of Liberty to the left, sailboats boats to the right, the skylines all around and the free ride!

Walking I am chilled, the wind is whirling and a voice - a loud female voice - can be heard. The voice seems to be coming from behind me and I turn around because even with the whirl I felt the voice might be directed at me. A young well dressed woman then approaches me screaming “You B*#*tch! Are you following me? Why are you following me?” I have never seen her before and I am confused, I stutter in a calm voice, 
“Actually, I am ahead of you. You're following me.” She seems a little flustered by this, and then crosses the street and we both continue to make our way uptown together.

I am on my way to hear the alto sax and English horn player Sonny Simmons. Let me rephrase that, I am on my way to hear Sonny and also surprise him!

I first met Sonny in Paris through a closed door in the 2eme Arrondissement as a friend attempted to introduce us at the cusp of his new apartment. We had some technical trouble getting in but eventually found Sonny warming some rotisserie chicken on a hot plate surrounded by almost no belongings and even fewer windows. Sonny sat on the bed and we took the two chairs. I remember Sonny called me Julie Bird. We all talked a while and he played some horn and as we left I left him a little painting of mine that I happen to have in my backpack: of a bird on a branch, but the branch is a clarinet (see above).

Sonny’s personal belongings seemed to double as we taped up the Bird above the bed. That was more than 6 years ago in Paris and I never saw Sonny again. And with the exception of his impromptu performance in that Parisian room I had never heard him live in concert.

At the Abrons center the French avant-garde Francois Tusques on piano taunted Sonny Simmons on alto sax. A gifted and challenging musician in his own right Tusques understood his role in this concert and shined by musically jabbing Simmons in the side luring him and his horn to glimmering heights. Tusques is a great musician but understood who the sometimes-reluctant star was this night. Everyone understood - as a paparazzi storm descended on Simmons he sat on stage testing his reeds he had whittled moments before.

At first one might have wondered if these two were just ornery jazz dudes jostling for dominance or was it actually an orchestrated jest. The later it turned out - as the night was musical, comical, touching, and a real performance. The Cheshire grin of Tusques who after a while would wrap up the song with a bar of fleur-de-lis each time Simmons sat down. Taunting. It was musical chairs! It was Tusques running up to Simmons and saying, “Are you following me?” And Simmons would tap his feet together leap up and start blowing and say, “Yes, actually I am ahead of you.” And they would go on together rising to one another’s occasion. Pure pleasure.

Julie Ryan, 2005

I am sure the 6 day Art for Arts Vision Festival on the LES was full of great moments. Unfortunately the only other concert I got a chance to catch was the All Star Mystery Collective, and All Star it was!  Including Cooper Moore on piano , Roy Campbelll on trumpet  and William Parker on bass. The festival also included some other acts I would have loved to have heard again like the Connie Crothers Quartet, Henry Grimes & Marc Ribot.... Next time.

(My apologies for NOT having photos from the concert!)

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