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.
When you come through New York City and if you enjoy food, you probably already know you’re in the right place. Especially if you like comfort food. In New York you can find any food you desire; pizza, hot dogs and pretzels are on almost every corner, and that’s why it’s so hard to find one favourite. Usually when we travel, I try to find a good pizza in a new city, but since there are so many to choose from, I didn’t even bother with it here. Although I do have to mention that I came across Artichoke Pizza and their signature artichoke slice which is amazing.
But the reason I’m writing it is to share my new discovery. To many it’s old news, but if you’re planning to visit the Big Apple, you have to try The Halal Guys food.
“It all started in 1990, when the founding partners opened a hot dog cart on West 53rd & 6th Avenue, New York, NY. The saw a huge demand among the Muslim cab drivers needing to have a halal Muslim meal. They quickly exchanged their cart and began servicing halal food, which became a huge success. They focused on the enhancement of their products to make it different and enjoyable. From that time, they pledged to use the best halal products to serve the public. During that time, they created their special magic white sauce and fiery hot sauce, which our public loves.”
Excerpt from http://thehalalguys.com
I had the chance to try their food a couple of years ago, but it was a leftovers from take out that I found in our friend’s fridge, without knowing where it was from. When we came through the city this time I decided to find out who makes this incredible chicken and gyro meat over yellow rice. As it turned out it was not that hard. Their carts are still there whey they started 25 years ago, plus they opened bunch of other shops that you can find on their websites. The choice is simple: chicken, gyro or mix. It is so good that even as we were driving from Westport, Connecticut to Atlantic City, we had to take a detour and pick up some goodness for the road.
So next time you’re in town, don’t forget to treat yourself to The Halal Guys.
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…”
What an amazing moment to approach this city. Sunrise over New York is spectacular. Photos can’t really translate it.
We landed on Sunday morning and headed down to visit our friends who are hosting us for a few days until our car arrives. It was a special day in Summit, New Jersey as it was Daffodil Day and the weather was perfect. People outside of the U.S. usually think of New Jersey as New York’s dirty, industrial little brother. But really it’s an amazing state, especially during a sunny day. After all it’s the Garden State. But at the end of the day it’s a quiet and peaceful place, so enough about it already.
On Monday, Louise decided to start the journey by checking out some venues in NYC and going to an open mic. Here is a excerpt from her site:
“So, I thought I would start in the right direction and on Monday night I played an open mic at Side Walk Cafe in East Village. It is New York City’s longest running open mic night, having been running for over 21 years! It was truly an entertaining evening…
Anyone who wants to perform has to show up for sign up at 7.30pm – they let you do anything; sing, play, recite poetry, rap, comedy… it just has to be either two songs or eight minutes, whichever is shorter. When you sign up, you get given a randomly assigned number and that determines when you play. I was given number 26. So I got a Guinness, sat down, and waited to see what the other acts would be.
I think, for my first night in New York, it was the absolutely perfect introduction. The acts ranged from super-talented to terrible, from mainstream to extremely weird! It was the perfect snapshot of artists in the big city. Some who have been plugging away for years and years, some who have just arrived and are hoping to make it big. Some were there to promote their shows or make connections. Some were there just because that’s what they do on Monday nights.
It was fun to be a part of such an eclectic group of performers. Being in Asia for so long has made it difficult to surround myself with artists, and so I welcomed the chance to soak up the scope of creativity.
It turned out that 26 was not the best number to draw… even after the One Song Wonder round which started at 10pm, I still hadn’t heard my name called. So by the time I got up to play (at 12.30am) I was super tired from the jet-lag! But it made an interesting introduction, and I told the 20 or so faithful who were still there a little of my story as I played. My voice was perhaps gruff from the tiredness and the Guinness, but my songs and stories built a connection with the audience that was precious to me, and I hope as I added my voice to the mix of the night, it blessed and inspired a few souls.” (LW)
The following day we woke up in the afternoon, as artists usually do, but we needed to get some sleep. Hopefully soon we’ll adjust and be ready for… whatever comes next. Today we got an email that our car will not arrive until later this week, and we assume that the customs clearance will take some time as well. So it seems that at the start we are already a week behind schedule… the schedule that does not exist. So we should be just fine.
Hong Kong; our home for over two years. The weather has been just beautiful as we have been packing up. It was say saying goodbye to our tiny flat – although we are travellers, we have loved having a beautiful little home.
It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulated over the past few years. As we packed, it was wonderful to look back over our time in Hong Kong. But it was also wonderful to do a bit of a cleanse; to throw away the excess, and have to decide what is actually important to have with us as we journey forward.
As we probably should have anticipated, it has been a hectic few weeks. We’ve been finishing up projects at work, organising the house, trying to finalise the car import and plans for when we land, getting the album finished and throwing a launch party.
But we pulled it off somehow – we had an amazing night on Thursday celebrating our time in Hong Kong, launching Louise’s album and reminiscing with friends. It was amazing that so many of you were able to come and give us an amazing farewell.
So, the albums are packed, the piano is packed, cameras are packed, the hard drives are packed… I think we have too much luggage! We are pretty exhausted and are gonna go and fall asleep on a long flight, and hopefully we will wake up refreshed in New York.
Louise is going to play a couple of open mic nights on Monday and Tuesday to get initiated into the NY music scene. Let us know where else we should go to check out some great live music.