“Like a modern day folk musician, he’s passing on the message of good ol’ fashioned, proper House music through generations” Bob Bhamra, the man behind the West Norwood Cassette Library label posits when talking of his latest release from James Duncan. ‘Brooklyn Beats Vol. 1’ covers four soulful House offerings with the grit left in - as Bhamra mentions, showing little regard for the gimmicks of ‘revivalists’.
As the title may suggest, Duncan has used New York as a very specific geographic marker point for the release. Each track is titled after a different Brooklyn subway stop - a fitting tribute to the city given the rather impressive stamp he has left on the NYC House scene. Since his debut in the late ’90s, he has managed to contribute to some of the most influential Metro Area releases, as well as seeing collaborations with Morgan Geist and releasing a long slew of 12”s on esteemed labels such as Le Systeme and Real Soon.
Aside from his rather lengthy history contributing to the city’s dance music scene, it is interesting to note Duncan has also played trumpet with some of NYC’s best jazz outfits. It is predominantly these experiences which he has decided to talk about for his contribution to our ‘That Time When’ series, from playing in Ornette Coleman’s loft to sending Thurston Moore on a beer run…
I’ve always been sort of fascinated by subways and subway systems, so it was cool when I moved to NY to discover that playing gigs in the subways had a long and storied tradition. I started getting calls from Free Jazz drummer (and downtown NY ‘Legend’ - and I don’t use that term lightly) Tom Bruno to join him on trumpet for his subway gigs. Tom helped establish many of the playing locations with the MTA in ’80s when city residents voted to officially allow musicians to play in the system, so he not only was an amazing player, but he was also able to secure some of the better locations to play. We always made great money and of course it was a major learning experience for me as he was one of my musical ‘heroes’.
These really weren’t ‘gigs’ per say, but they were amazing experiences nonetheless! I met Ornette literally on 7th Ave one day. A friend of mine knew him, so I was able to make some connections and he subsequently invited me to his loft to play, which was quite close. I ended up going two or three times. To say they were incredible experiences is an understatement. He also brought out his trumpet for me to check out. Since he was one of my fave trumpet players too, I was totally honored to look at it, check it out and chat about it.
I DJ’ed at Club Love with Ulysses and Alexander Robotnick and then played trumpet live with Metro Area there. Anyone who ever went to Club Love will attest that it probably had one of the best sound systems ever created, so to play on it twice and on such great bills was amazing. It, along with APT, sort of represented this very ‘transitional’ time for clubs in NYC, for me at least. Long before RA ‘discovered’ NYC dance music ‘again’ but long after all the major clubs like Limelight etc had been shut down by the city, NYC nightlife sort of existed on this ‘micro’ level for a few years. I used to go check out Harvey upstairs at APT and we would just sit behind this small little DJ table and he would talk about surfing while blowing my mind playing records to literally about 30 people - none of whom knew who he was.
I used to play in a free jazz collective in NYC called IZITITZ, which was lead by TEST bassist Matt Heyner. He and Chris Corsano knew Thurston Moore quite well, so we opened up for one of his free jazz gigs at UMass one night. Literally the day before this gig, he was quoted in the Village Voice making some somewhat ‘disparaging’ comments about The Rapture’s ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ record, which felt like a bit of a ‘cheap shot’ at a bit of a ‘low hanging fruit’. So I figured that he probably hadn’t really listened to the whole 12” - as here I was doing this sort of trumpet ‘homage’ to free jazz trumpeters Don Cherry and Raphe Malik on Morgan Geist’s remix and him not really seeming to ‘get it’ - even though he sort of turned a lot of people onto Free Jazz via his infamous article in Grand Royal in the early ’90s. So, instead of saying anything the next day at this gig, I simply kept my mouth shut and made him go on the beer run. That was sort of fun ha.
I actually don’t remember what this bar was even called but I had gotten a regular Sunday night DJ gig there - which was usually a complete washout (ie: no one ever came)! So one Sunday night, as per usual, I finished early due to, wait for it… lack of people. So I had decided to have a quick beer at the bar before I left for home. As I sat there, these two women came in and were sort of worked up. Finally one of the said “I can’t believe about Joey!!” Turns out they were discussing that Joey Ramone had just passed away. I was never a huge Ramones fan but liked them well enough and certainly understood they meant a lot to a great many people. Anyways, I just figured that they were talking as fans and probably didn’t know him personally.
Then one says “Hey!! There’s Lenny!” and she runs out onto the street only to return with Patti Smith guitarist and East Village stalwart Lenny Kaye. So I continue to drink my beer while they all chat and before long we are pushing quarters into the bar’s jukebox and here I am, doing shots and singing Ramones songs with Lenny Kaye, til long after closing. Later that week, when the Village Voice came out, Lenny had written a very touching, full page obituary to Joey Ramone in it. He ended it by talking about how he was wandering around after hearing the news and ended up singing Ramones songs along with the jukebox, just how The Ramones should be enjoyed, one might say. A total ‘New York Story’ if there ever was one.
‘Brooklyn Beats Vol.1’ will be available on the 18 March from the WNCL Webstore.