Friday evening in NYC, Alex and I ventured out to Eataly for a progressive dinner. We began, as most dinners do (should?), with a stop at the bar. Upon arriving, a man with an instrument case was just leaving and we quickly took advantage of his open seat, and the one next to him. After taking his chair, I noticed he was still finishing his water. We looked at him sheepishly, apologized for taking the seat, and asked if he was still using it. He said no… he was just finishing his water. We thanked him.
Alex looked down at the closed instrument case at his feet and asked him, “Is that a Soprano Sax? Straight?” The guy was amazed, and frankly so was I at Alex’s perception. Yes, that’s exactly what it was. His name was Bernard. He had just retired (that week) as a substance abuse counsellor, and this night out was his “treat” to himself.
Bernard and Alex gained a quick mutual respect for one another, and Bernard decided he wasn’t quite done at the bar after all. He had more to share with Alex and I, and we had more to learn from him. Then he did the kindest thing. He asked the bartender for a glass of champagne for himself, and instructed the bartender to get us anything we wanted. Despite our objections, he was too quick with the credit card for us to react, and our cocktails arrived (mine a Manhattan, of course, and Alex’s a Negroni) without a chance for us to contribute.
He and Alex struck up a conversation about saxophones, sharing the different brands they both used. At one point, he asked Alex what type of mouthpiece he used. Plastic was Alex’s response. Well, for Bernard that wouldn’t do. He reached into his case and pulled out an extra metal mouthpiece and gave it to Alex. He asked where we were from, and we asked the same of him. He had lived in northern California, and now lived in the city. He asked what I was doing in town for work, and I told him I was facilitating a class on public speaking & training others. He offered to visit my class one day, as he had worked as a radio host on NPR. He even did his radio voice for us, and told us about a mentor that helped him refine his voice and eliminate some of the tell-tale signs of his accent from growing up in the Bronx.
He told us about some of the Jazz clubs he loved in the city, and some of his friends that played in those clubs. He shared that you can go in and buy a really expensive cocktail, or you can listen for free from the outside. He suggested the latter. You see, Bernard’s perspective was that music should be free. It should be for everyone. True to his word, you can find him playing under the Dipway Arch in Central Park almost daily. He explained the hierarchy of arch selection in Central Park by the musicians. How they all know each other. How he always chooses the same arch (unless taken by some new guy not familiar with the hierarchy, of course).
It was there that we found Bernard on Monday afternoon, after our stroll through central park. If you are ever in NYC, look for our friend Bernard, enjoy his music, and that of his musician friends that fill each of the central park bridges and tunnels.
How to be Neighborly: If you can, thank the musicians for their contribution to your experience with a small donation. If you can’t, at a minimum, thank them for their music. Free or not, it’s priceless….
….Just like this chance encounter with Bernard. Priceless.
- 1.5 oz Bourbon/Rye Whiskey
- 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
- Dash of bitters
- Brandied cherries
In a mixing glass, place bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters and ice. Stir to chill. Serve in a coupe or rocks glass with cherries.