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Jamming for Peace
by William Benzon
Submitted 03/22/03

I got off the PATH train in mid-town Manhattan at about12:30. Five minutes later I was in Harold Square, checking out the demo. I'dagreed to hook up with Charlie at between 1 and 1:30, so I had a few minutesto get a feel for the flow.

People filled Broadway from side-to-side for block after block. Here andthere I heard drums and bells and a horn player or two, but no organizedmusic. Shortly after the Sparticists passed (they're still around?) Inoticed a trombonist standing on the sidewalk. Just as I was about to invitehim to come with Charlie and me he headed out into the crowd. I let him gohis way as I went mine.

I arrived at 36th and 6th ­ our meeting point a block off the demo route ­at about 1. Charlie arrived about five minutes later, with two German houseguests. We were to meet with other musicians and then join the demo,providing some street music for the occasion. None of the other musicianshad arrived by 1:45, so we waded into the crowd searching for the drummerswe could hear so well ­ one of our musicians arrived about ten minutes laterand managed to find us in the deme. We made our way to the drummers andstarting riffing along with them, Charlie on cornet and me on trumpet. Icould see one guy playing bass drum, another on snare, a djembe player ortwo, and various people playing bells, a small cooking pot, plastic paintcans. Then I heard some wild horn playing off to the left. I looked and sawthe one-armed cornetist I'd seen playing in Union Square in the days after9-11. Charlie and I made our way toward him and joined up. Then I noticedtwo trumpeters and a trombonist a few yards behind us.

So there we were, a half dozen horns, perhaps a dozen percussion, all withina 20-yard radius. We'd come to the demo in ones, twos and threes, managed tohome-in on one another's sounds, and stayed in floating proximity for thetwo or three miles walk down Broadway to Washington Square. Sometimes wewere closer, within a 5 or 6-yard radius, and sometimes we sprawled over 50yards. Thus music was like that too, sometimes close, sometimes sprawled.

When the march slowed to a stop, one of the djembe players would urge thepercussionists to form a circle. The horn players executed punctuatingriffs as one person after another moved into the circle's center to dancetheir steps. These young women clearly had taken African dance classes. Whenthe demo started to move, the dancers dispersed into the crowd, the circledissolved, and we starting moving forward.

Sometimes the music made magic. The drummers would lock on a rhythm, then ahorn player ­ we took tunrs doing this ­ would set a riff, with the four orfive others joining in on harmony parts or unison with the lead. At the sametime the crowd would chant "peace now" between the riffs while raising theirhands in the air, in synch. All of a sudden ­ it only took two or threeseconds for this to happen ­ a thirty-yard swath of people became one. Hornplayers traded off on solos, the others kept the riffs flowing,percussionists were locked, and the crowd embraced us all. You walked withspring and purpose. Even as the crowd chanted "peace" I was feeling "OnwardChristian Soldiers" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in my mind and in mystep.

The tribe was rising.

Things got jammed up as we got to Waverly Place ­ the street that runs justnorth of Washington Square, the demo's end. One of the cornet playerslooked off to the side. I followed his gaze and saw the trombonist I'dpassed when I'd first reconnoitered the demo in Harold Square. His horn waspointed to the sky, slide pumping away, as he worked his way toward us. Hesettled into "All You Need Is Love" and the other horns joined him in sweet,crude, rough harmony. I was hearing John Lenon in my mind's ear, along withthe sardonic horn riffs answering the treacly refrain.

Leave us wanting more, that's how it ended.

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