I was a teenager with Fred, in Queens. We met on the street corner, we hung out. We didn’t go to the same public schools, but Astoria and Queensview was where it was at. It was where we grew up, along with a lot of kids on that corner, 21st Street and 34th Avenue. A very formidable, very special place. Anyone who was there knows what I’m saying.
Fred and I shared musical tastes — in a big way. That kind of sharing was incredibly special because a lot of the music was esoteric, out there. So to have another person to talk to about musicians and music that you couldn’t really have a conversation about with anyone else was a monumentally cool thing. This was the early 70s, so the loft jazz scene in NYC was in full swing. We would go to gigs that had twelve people in the audience, where admission might be three dollars. Studio RivBea, Environ, The Kitchen, among other spots. We were into all the players from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) out of Chicago, many of whom were already tenured veterans in the world of contemporary jazz. Younger players were always coming up, too, so it was boundless music, boundless energy, boundlessly cool to have a buddy that was into it, too.
I think I was a year or two ahead of Fred in school, so when I went to college at NYU, it was Fred who followed me soon thereafter. Before that, when we were both still on the corner before college, we occasionally heard music at NYUs student center at the foot of Washington Square Park, at what was called the Eisner & Lubin Auditorium. The auditorium featured lots of eclectic acts during those years, and the shows were open to the public. It was one of the reasons I decided to go to school there. It’s tough to recall which concerts Fred and I might have attended together, but I remember hearing Don Cherry there, Anthony Braxton right down the street in an old church, Karl Berger, so many others..so when I got there my Freshman year, I walked into the student center and asked who it was that produced those concerts because I wanted to get involved. The administrator, who was bearded and smoking a pipe, said "you do!"
Provided with a tiny budget, I started something called the New Music Showcases, and we featured many great acts during my undergrad years at NYU. Granted, it was a bourgeois setting for revolutionary music (one of the first concerts we produced was The Revolutionary Ensemble, featuring the wiry Leroy Jenkins on violin,) but who cares — it was a kick! Then, in comes Fred, helping with that effort during the time we overlapped as students there, and it was a gas — and when I graduated, Fred kept the series going, booking more great gigs until he graduated, too.
Fred and I shared one controversial and disappointing event while we were doing these concerts, and I’ll try to keep it brief because I think it warrants being told. Perhaps you’re familiar with Stanley Crouch, the music critic and author. During our downtown years he wrote jazz criticism for The Village Voice. Even then he had a reputation for being pugnacious. He wanted me to book a gig with him on percussion along with other musicians whom I can’t recall. I was a kid, let’s face it — not a businessman or an impresario, just a punk undergrad who "controlled" a pretty nifty venue (an auditorium that sat 800,) so whatever I said, no matter how I said it, probably sounded like BS to him. My reasoning was, hey — you’re a critic, and you haven’t been playing or recording, like, anywhere, and there are a lot of folks who’ve been playing and traveling and gigging (who really are performers!) who are very worthy of having a shot at this space, and they really need to be prioritized over someone in your position. The long and the short of what came after resulted in me getting sucker punched and only luckily escaping a worse beating by the sheer good fortune that bystanders interrupted his act of vengeance.
Fast forward to Fred a year or so later. Fred’s now the guy running the Showcase gigs, he runs into Crouch at some other venue and is approached with the same proposal. Fred’s well aware of what happened to me the year before, he’s on his guard — AND, I don’t think I need to tell anyone reading this — he was a LOT BIGGER than me, and ready for action. I wasn’t there but Fred recounted it for me afterwards — and the long and short of that was Fred was swung at but luckily there were no connects. However, the legacy of this critic’s sociopathology was extended with this episode.
I hope no one minds me sharing the above story – for me, these are wonderful memories of a very special time.
Sue! I remember visiting you and Fred when you both moved to Brooklyn — that must have been the late 70s, I think — how cool and adventurous that seemed to me, and so way ahead on the Brooklyn scene!
I was really saddened last night when another dear friend from that time and neighborhood told me of Fred’s passing, and I’m going to be thinking about Fred in the days ahead. He was a formidable being, big energy, and I will always remember him fondly.
Yours truly in solidarity, Ted Herman