I went to brunch at this renowned diner yesterday on my way to see my Pieces of Eight partner Ben Larsen, discussing 2021 residencies and putting together documents. It’s hard to believe that our last gig together was in fall 2018, in Baltimore, at An Die Musik. My parents came from my hometown of Columbia, and we ate an early Turkish dinner before Ben headed back to the city by bus.
Ben and I ate here back in our early days, I forget where we were going; somewhere by Metro North, probably the Hudson Valley, to soundcheck at Queen-of-the-Hudson in Newburgh. The curator, David, has since moved to Spain, to other projects and another life. That gig was momentous: Aaron Lown, the co-founder of BUILT (the product design company I worked for in SoHo, then Midtown, after MSM) had a studio space there, and his 6’8” self bounded down the stairs excitedly and spun me around in a bear hug. I haven’t been greeted like that since. He and his daughter Vivian drove down from their house in Tuxedo Park to New Jersey to hear me play a gig with a cellist in 2012 or something - that’s the level of support he gave me during my time with BUILT. That’s the type of person he is - purely wise, an artistic and design genius, just working it all out.
Bob Sirota, a longtime mentor to Ben and me, loves Neptune. A native New Yorker (Long Island, his accent proves it), he attended Oberlin with his organist, Episcopal partner and their undergrad wedding was officiated by none other than the genius Smoky Mary MD David Hurd. They all live in Yonkers now, where Vicki is an Episcopal priest. Bob converted for her, and they raised their kids (Nadia Sirota, a renowned violist and radio personality in the #newmusic world, and Jonah, also a violist, more on the Classical side of life) in Baltimore (where Bob was president of Peabody) and New York City (where he later became president of MSM, where I was introduced to him). Before we commissioned him officially, Ben and I met him for pastries and coffee on the Upper West, near where he was living then, and discussed our ensemble and our style of playing. Once he heard me live for the first time, Bob said (I paraphrase), “Ok, you’re a badass. Now I know what to write.” His poetic set of miniatures, broken places, became a staple of our repertoire as we concertized over the next few years up and down the East Coast.