In May 2015, in the first week of our trip across the US, we had a chance to meet one extraordinary man. His name is Andrew Thomas and he is a jazz trumpet player. We met him through his brother Matthew, who Michal went to college with. Matt told us that Andrew is an interesting character, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Andrew charmed us, lured us into his beautiful mind and let us have a glimpse of what he calls his beautiful frustration.
We previously posted an interview with Andrew, but recently we started looking through some files we gathered during our four months journey and came across this video.
Their chariots await, their armour on the on stands.
The smiths of wood and metal and glass
Fire forth the strong and straight.
Print the banner, raise the flag.
Within the forge
Function finds its form.
Unexampled, never seen before.
They’ve no enemy to fight,
No blood to shed,
No tears to draw.
But to draw forth the tangible from light.
Ten thousand dreams to bring to life.
Guys taking a break behind Fort Houston
Nashville is a city that is rooted in music. It seems that everyone here is, or used to be, a musician or their parents are musicians or promoters or agents or songwriters…
And just like in LA, where every waiter is an actor with their big break just around the corner, in Nashville every waiter is a songwriter… with their big break just around the corner! So I guess we fit right in…
Erin Murphy, artist.
But, it is not all about music. There is a growing scene of makers and craftspeople and artists and artisans that give Nashville a beautiful home grown, home made, home designed and taken-home identity.
Our first day at the Fort, with Nick.
One of their homes is Fort Houston: a 10,000 square foot old hosiery factory that is a living, breathing, sparking space where things are made. Not made digitally, with pixels, binary or code, like so much of our 21st Century world.
But made with sweat, machines, oil, metal, glass, ink, wood, power tools, sound, light, fire.
Falling into this space, tucked behind the railway line, we willingly lost ourselves in the Fort Houston creative atmosphere. A maze of workshops, where you literally trip over tools and can find anything from fine art to a gear wrench, the fort is alive with the sound of makers.
Ryan, co-founder of Fort Houston, giving us a brief history of everything
Spending a week around its talented craftsmen, we began to see the secret of Fort Houston’s success. It is not ‘perfect’, it was not meticulously set out with a ten year business plan set in stone. It is an evolving creation itself, with artists and mechanics and smiths coming and going, being given the tools that they need and the inspiration around them in the form of people and space, giving back from within themselves, leaving their thumbprint on the walls and floors, and being challenged to create better.
Atlas Motorworks custom build
Atlas Motorworks and the motorcycle boys are the welcoming committee that spill out into the parking lot. A collection of their own bikes, along with the bikes of their clients, fills the stands.
Tyson at Knuckle Up Speed Shop
And as you move through their shops with parts and spanners and spare petrol tanks streamed everywhere, you begin the journey towards the print shop. With their headphones on, keeping their movements flowing and rhythmic, these boys work hard and long and their endless print cycles are almost robotic.
A Woodworker’s Dream
Then there is the woodshop, with its carpet of sawdust and the metalshop with flying sparks and hot, sunburned smiths.
Sparks will fly
Layer on layer at the print shop
And dotted here and there, a jewellery maker, a painter or two, a glass blower, and a puppy.
The newest member of the team.
It’s not a tourist attraction or and exhibit, although they do show work, but if you are ever passing through Nashville, make sure you visit 500 Houston Street, and say hello from The Travellers Two.
After hours on the road, we pulled the Land Rover into the driveway of our “new home” for two days on the Isle of Palms, just outside Charleston, SC. In the golden late afternoon sunshine, Pat, watering her picture perfect plants in her pretty pink front garden, and glowing with a smile from ear to ear, waved us into the driveway and welcomed us to her home. Seconds later we were feeling the warmth of her unabashed laughter, and we knew that hers was going to be a house where we felt very at home.
Pat’s home is an artist’s paradise. As soon as we walked in, a stunning collection of paintings, sculptures and antiques greeted us. From her vast collection of old cameras, to her art wall with works from across the world, Pat has filled her home with all sorts of beautiful art. But she maintains that she is not an artist herself…
Well you know, I can’t actually do anything besides raise plants very well! But I’m a very visual creature – I’m a big fan of colour and texture and movement, and I don’t really know when I started to collect paintings… I didn’t study it, I can’t do it! I think just from travelling I just gained an appreciation – I’m a museum maniac; it’s actually my bucket list to be able to go to every worthy museum in the world.
As Pat gave us an impromtu tour of her collection, we were amazed at the way she described each piece. For someone without any formal training in art or art history, her knowledge was deep and her eye was true. She talked about her pieces almost as a mother talking about a child – rejoicing in their uniqueness and beauties, lamenting over their weaknesses, seeing each detail, knowing them inside out. Each painting has a story; how she found it, why she chose it.
There has to be a gut reaction for me. You know I used to work in an art gallery for several years, and it drove me crazy when people there would be looking for things that would just “match” their interior décor. There were lots of decorators too who would come in and help people choose pieces to match their designs – it drove me crazy! They just had no gut reaction.
It’s so hard for me to leave a gallery without taking something that I feel a gut response to – hence the quantity probably – I can’t leave without it! I thought I was gonna have to start putting stuff on the ceiling!
Wanting to understand more about the way that the masters put their paintings together, Pat started to study on her own – from books and videos, she has developed a fuller understanding that allows her to see so much more.
When I was younger, I could only afford posters from the places that I had been, and those were very special. But I can’t stand to just have posters of things anymore – I can’t tolerate the imitation of it. You never see the texture or the shadows, the contrast, the nuances of what the artists did. So I feel like I’m old enough and should be able to afford decent originals!
And when I’m in front of the original art, I could just stand and look at one painting for hours, and just study it. There’s so much to consider when you’re looking at it, and to appreciate talent. When I spent three days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in preparation for that I got these videos from the library. They were kind of old and farty, but it was different people talking about art and the artists; how they painted, why they painted and what they did, then I was really like oh my gosh, I could see so much more.
Pat also has hundreds of antique cameras and one day she wants to catalogue and display them properly. She fell in love with cameras when she was just a young girl. Exploring the attics of her parents’ home in Jersey City, she came across an old Kodak camera and the seed of her future collection was planted. Later, as she travelled, she bought her first Nikomat camera in Japan. Her love of all things visual was placed into the limelight as she started to experiment with photography; buying lenses, learning the technical skills and spending hours developing films. Pat’s collection of cameras and film projectors now numbers into the hundreds, but unfortunately, many of them are still hiding in their boxes and are not yet on display.
It’s a little excessive isn’t it? I like BIG. “I like large things, large quantities of things”, I don’t do much that’s small or tiny…
Pat is also ‘obsessed’ with her garden. After Hurricane Hugo completely destroyed her home in 1989, it has taken Pat years to rebuild. Her home was absolutely flattened, and the only thing left in her garden was a palm tree. Now the house looks picture perfect; while we were out visiting the sights in Charleston on Saturday, Pat spent her whole day working on the garden. Her inner connection to art, texture and colour also draws her outside of her home into her garden:
I have the same response to nature. I mean, you see all my plants and everything, I’m kind of an obsessive creature. I have this green thumb… I don’t know where it came from, I mean I grew up in a big city with just dirt in the back yard. It just seems to come out of me!
After hurricane Hugo there was nothing there! Every single thing that’s out I planted and grew and nurtured and talked to. When something dies I’m devastated! Things don’t usually die on me – they wouldn’t dare! I have a visceral reaction to nature as well – I grew up in a big city – I just seem to get a teeny interest in something and then BAM I’m living and breathing it. But to me the yard and the plants and the light and the design, that’s about as artistic as I can get.
As much as Pat maintains that she is not an “artist”, it is clear to see that she truly is. She started a framing business several years ago, and has a keen eye for the art of how to frame and mount a work of art, bringing out all the colours, textures and shadows. A piece of art can be destroyed with bad framing, but when someone understands the principles of framing and lighting, they can actually enhance the way that the painting is received.
This “non-artist” is one of the most artistic souls we have met so far on our journey. Her collection, her passion, her laughter, her garden all highlighted her true creativity… After all, Monet’s greatest creation was his garden…
I used to study trumpet at a conservatoire. But I always wanted to play jazz. I mean I don’t want to be in an orchestra and count “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… 100, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…” Do you know how many times I’ve lost count?! Like where are we? You can’t say that in a 100-person orchestra… everyone’s like “shhhh”! And I’m like, no seriously, where are we? And they’re mean people… once I had a conductor throw his baton at me, coz I came in too early! That’s embarrassing… so yeah, I always wanted to play jazz.
Our afternoon with Andrew Thomas was one of the most entertaining, thought-provoking afternoons I have ever had. A jazz trumpet player, based in Brooklyn, New York, Andrew met us at the door with his Miles Davies t-shirt on, brought us into his kitchen and into his world.
Talking at an engagingly frenetic pace, and jumping from topic to topic, our interview felt more like short glimpses into a creative genius’ brain. I felt like I was peeping through the windows, and whatever I could see inside was so intriguing that I wanted to see more, but he was already onto the next piece of the puzzle, and off we went.
Andrew took up the trumpet in his teenage years:
At 15, you either think you’re THE sh**, like you’re amazing, or you think you’re a piece of sh**. There’s not much inbetween, because you’re trying to find yourself. I used to be like “I’m the man” – even though you know you’re not but you say it anyway, and someone tells you you’re not, but you’re like “Yeah, I am.” So I went through that with my first teacher.
My first lesson, I played for him. Then, you’re gonna love this, he gave me just the mouthpiece. He took away the rest of the trumpet and he said “you’re not gonna use this for the next six months” and I’m like what? He said everything you play, you must sing.
So now I come from a vocalist standpoint. A lot of instrumentalists play well technically; like they can play scales all day and all night. But I love the voice – I love Sarah Vaughn, I love Ella Fitzgerald, I love that sometimes the notes weren’t right, but then the question is, how do they get somewhere else from that note.
Andrew worked hard to get into a conservatoire:
I had to work twice as hard because I was in a music conservatory that I couldn’t afford. It was US$40,000 per year. I was working in the morning at UPS loading the trucks. So, my normal day was that I would be there from 2am and I would be there til about 8 o clock. Then I would take a two hour train ride, one way, to school, for my first class, and I’ve been up already for 8 hours, and everyone is like “I’m so tired”! and I’m like… you don’t even know…
Andrew’s creativity, coupled with dyslexia and ADHD, and his long days made it impossible for his to succeed in the rigours environment of the conservatoire.
Some days I would be able to sight read perfectly. But then, when I was tired and my dyslexia was bad, I really COULD NOT sight read. Coz it’s dots on lines, you know? I mean, it was bad… So I was frustrated at school. And I was frustrated with my job. I basically had a complete mental breakdown. And I was like, this is not what I wanna do…
Andrew left the conservatoire, with a lot of anger, a lot of pain, disappointment and questions. He went to Florida, and cut himself off from the world in some ways. He lived on the beach. He stopped playing music. He gained weight, lost weight, tried alcohol, drugs… but nothing filled the gap that music left.
When my father passed away, the music is what kept me, it became my centre. Everybody has a sense of music as therapy. Even if you look in the bible, it’s there. King Saul, he hired David to play the lute. And that developed a relationship between them. Music… isn’t just music… it’s not just notes that I play. Music changed my life, music gave me discipline. It allowed me to focus. And it makes me feel good, coz I’m always running at 100mph, I’m just that sort of person.
You see the way I talk, that’s exactly how I am. I’m like a puppy – I’m like hey that looks interesting, or here wow that’s looks interesting.
By chance, Andrew met John McNeil, a legend in the jazz world.
I was working at the gym. I would practice trumpet by myself, but I was so frustrated. And there’s this guy who I would see him come in. And I would sometimes help spot him while he worked out. And then I asked him his name, and I’m like “You’re John McNeil?!” This guy like wrote all the books for trumpet. He is down to the t about articulation, how to breathe; this is how Charlie Parker plays, this is how Miles Davies plays. He puts in a way that it’s not above you. He breaks it down and helps you understand.
He teaches jazz at a conservatory. All the things I wanted to know, he teaches! He says, “Andrew you’re a funny guy, I like you so much, keep your money!”. And I’m like, “I don’t have to pay you?!” We’ve created a cohesiveness. I’m just so fortunate to have that with John. He’s the friendship that I always wanted.
He helped me put it all together… I was like “I have all this stuff and I don’t know what to do with it. It’s making me crazy, I don’t wanna do this any more, I’m going back to the same frustrations.”
John simplified everything, when he brought me back to where I started, to the mouthpiece. At 30 years old, I said “what?! I’m getting the mouthpiece again? I have to do this all over again?” But then I realised, I did this already – that means it’s gonna go faster, I’m gonna be better; all the mistakes that I made, I’m not gonna make again.
And you know what I learned? I learned that I have a beautiful frustration.
I have the satisfaction of saying I made it work, I did what I had to do. That’s what I did with the music – it’s the relationship of it. You may feel frustrated but you love something so much that even though… like it frustrates you but it makes you a better person.
After we talked, we played. Andrew is good. He is really good. And he helped me to question my music, my writing, and why I make the choices that I do. He truly feels the music, understands, pushes and pulls and extends and draws it into something new.
He doesn’t perform much at the moment. He said he knows he can be unreliable: I don’t even own a cell phone! But he is concentrating on learning, growing and expanding himself as a person.
I don’t wanna make money from music. I don’t care… I could live under a bridge and eat sardines for the rest of my life and be happy. As long as I have music. It’s something that people can’t take away from you. I love music. If I don’t even have a trumpet I can make music, I can sit here and I can make music. I can drum rhythms. It might not be cool to you but it’s cool to me…
“Which street do you live on?” he asked as we thumbed through his paintings.
We tried to politely and succinctly explain that we don’t live around here, and that actually we don’t really live anywhere right now. The awkward way we told our story seemed to create some kind of kindred spirit between artists… “Well take a look anyway,” he smiled.
It was a chilly late afternoon and the sun was slowly setting on Greenwich Avenue when we met Kazuya Morimoto; a Japanese painter who spends his days painting the picturesque scenes of Greenwich Village, NYC.
“I always work on site. It’s more fun, more intimate that way… hey, I met you guys right?” As he shows us his work, he tells us about this part of the city; that it used to be full of artists like him, that it has more of a local feel than other parts of the city, but that there’s not many artists like him left. “People say to me ‘wow, you’re still doing the traditional stuff – that’s’ rare!’”
Kazuya loves this part of New York the most; the routines of the people who often pop up in his paintings, the light, the trees, and the buildings. He paints specific crossings and facades of the streets, adding a radiance and brilliance to their already unique buildings and pavements, capturing the enticing charm of this “village” in the big city.
Another perk of being a resident artist of Greenwich Village is meeting the local famous residents. He laughs as he tells us that he embarrassed himself when he met Liv Tyler “I told her I thought she was British. She said ‘why did you think I’m British?’… Because Rolling Stones are British right? She said ‘My dad’s not from the Rolling Stones, he’s Aerosmith!’. I don’t know who is Aerosmith! I mean, I heard their music on the radio, but I don’t know their name. So embarrassing… but she has a few of my paintings… she likes my work.”
And it wasn’t until a friend from the UK sent him a photo from a newspaper of him with Sarah Jessica Parker that he finally realised who she was! Her children often come and see him when he is working. “They love to paint – they always get paint on their clothes! Most of the time they come with their nanny, but sometimes with mum, sometimes dad too.”
Kazuya has an online portfolio and a small following on social media. But he says that most of his clients are local – “For them, it’s really special having these paintings. For tourists, they only care about the landmarks. But for the residents, they really care about these places.”
But he doesn’t live in Greenwich – “I wish, but too expensive! A small studio will cost you like $2000 a month…”