Home, in the Key of E
A jazz saxophonist sells his drafty farmhouse and finds a new place in upstate New York; there, he discovers the soul of his living room
I moved to Woodstock, N.Y., about four months ago for the heat. For the past 40 years I lived on the other side of the Hudson River in Germantown, N.Y., in a small farmhouse built in the late 1880s. My wife, Lucille, and I first moved up there from New York in 1972.
It was a two-hour drive, and we loved the quiet and privacy. We weren't really social people who hung out and went to parties and everything. After my wife died in 2004, I lived there alone.
Last year the farmhouse became physically uncomfortable for a guy my age. The staircase leading to the second floor was steep and dangerous—I fell there one time. The house also was drafty in the winter and spring. My feet get cold easily now and I needed to be warm, so it was time to move.
I told my musician friends about my plans, and they suggested Woodstock, where many of them live. [Drummer] Jack DeJohnette and his wife, Lydia, introduced me to some real-estate people who sold them their house, and they took me around.
When I first saw the house I ended up buying, I liked the entrance. There were no stairs to climb to reach the front door, and the staircase inside was wide and much safer. The interior reminded me of a lovely house I had stayed in some years back when I was touring in New Zealand.
Best of all, the central heating was fantastic. After I moved in last December, I kept the thermostat between 80 and 82 and installed a gas fireplace in the living room so I can make the space even warmer. I also soundproofed one of the bedrooms upstairs, expecting to practice there. I didn't want neighbors who were trying to sleep saying, "Oh, there's a guy nearby playing the saxophone." A couple of months later, when I didn't hear any complaints, I began practicing in my wood-paneled living room, which is a more welcoming space.
I used to be a ferocious practicer, but I can't physically do that anymore. These days, if I can practice two to three hours a day, that's great. I'll usually practice in the afternoon, starting at noon, or in the evening from 8 p.m. on.
Rooms have sound—a note, if you will. My living room is an E, and to a lesser degree an A-flat. When I play an E in there, it resonates more than any other note—filling the space and lingering in the air. E is a good note, but I'm an ecumenical guy. I have nothing against any of the notes. Sometimes they have stuff against us players.
What's important to me in the living room is the 12-foot alphorn that lies across the entire top of my bookcases. Friends in Switzerland sent it about 15 years ago. It's played on mountains there and gives me a nice feeling. It's different from a saxophone, of course, but it has a nice mellow, woody sound. It takes a lot of air to play, and you have to be careful. One time I was showing off—playing it for some guys—and I really got dizzy. You're supposed to play just long tones, and I was trying to do some silly stuff—playing it like my saxophone.
What I like most about my new house is that I'm left alone. Up here you're too far for people to drop by. I'm a very private person and I'm able to express that part of my desire as a human being here. Fortunately everyone in the area likes space and privacy, too. In Germantown, I had plenty of open sky and could see the stars at night. I also could see the Catskill Mountains across the river—where I live now in Woodstock. Now, with all the tall fir trees outside my new home, I can only see a patch of sky out my windows and a little bit of the moon. But that's OK.
When I go into town, there's always the risk of being recognized. That's not a bad thing. At the local health-food store recently, a guy came up to me and said, "Gee, you look just like Sonny Rollins. Are you?" I said, "Yes," and he said, "Wow." He was really overwhelmed. When people recognize me, it's humbling. There's an ego factor involved in being a performer, and in the music business, ego is something you have to nourish. But you also have to be careful about that. I'm very humble and genuinely touched when people approach me, but I never expect it. I was a fan of jazz musicians once, too, so I understand.
A house has a soul. I hope you don't think that's too strong a word. Its personality is shaped by its history. The personality of this house and my personality—we had to join and realize, well, we're going to be together for a while. That process is going on now. I'm getting used to the house—and it's getting used to me. It has been a comfortable relationship so far.
Article by Max Myers from Jazzwax