By James Maher
Name: Cheryl PyleJames Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.
Occupation: Musician (Flute and Bass), The Flute Mistress of Epic Doom Metal
Location: 11th Street Between A and B
Time: 2 on Saturday, Feb. 2
I moved to the East Village from San Francisco after college in 1980 because I had been meeting a lot of jazz musicians who said that the jazz was in New York. I stayed with a friend, a bass player’s wife, on 14th street near 6th Avenue and we went around to all of the jazz clubs. There was Fat Tuesday’s, Village Vanguard, Jazz Forum, Jazzmania and Lush Life — there were tons of clubs. There was also Bradley’s on University Place, where everyone would go after they played and would hangout till 6 or 7 in the morning.
When I used to go to the Village Vanguard and Max was the owner, he would let all of the jazz musicians in for free, and he’d be down there, this little guy with a cigar, and he would say, “Did you find some gigs? Did you find a place to live?” He was that kind of New York guy. My first Christmas Eve here I spent down there; he let me in for free. I think Elvin Jones was playing and his mom was there and it was just a very old New York kind of family atmosphere for jazz.
So I met a lot of jazz musicians and I met this drummer from San Francisco and he said, “Oh, I think I have this apartment building in the East Village and you can move in without first and last months rent.” We came over here and the neighborhood was scary. There was a couple here, Ice and Joyce, and they said, “Take an apartment. The landlord abandoned the building. Pay us when you can.” The rent was $180 a month. I took this apartment, my friend Todd took the one downstairs, and another piano player took the one in front. Then the city offered to sell us the building for $5,000 in 1981, so we all put in $250 dollars and bought it. And I’m still here.
The dynamic of the building was pretty cool because Ice and Joyce were very cool. There were a lot of artists and musicians and dancers. Even though we were all broke, it was a great time. A lot of times we didn’t have heat, so you’d just have to take cold water baths and stuff. It was pretty raw but we all knew each other. We have been ongoing fixing the building. I’ve painted several times. I sanded the floors myself. We did a building repair on the roof. We landscaped the backyard and fixed it up so we could sit out there when it’s warm. We put in a new boiler. I was just doing plumbing last week. I love doing plumbing. We all have tools.
But the neighborhood was really really scary. The building right across the street had a lot of drug problems and I think there were seven murders there. I remember my mom came to visit from California in 1984 and we walked out and there was this car stripped on the street in a blazing fire. This stolen car ring from New Jersey used to bring cars over, strip them and light them on fire on 11th street. It was like a war zone. I always carried Mace with me. One time I was putting my key into my door and this guy put a knife to my throat. He cut my chain off but I had Mace in my hand and I Maced him. He threw me down and ran away. That was my one mugging situation.
I had mostly been playing the jazz flute since I moved here. Being in this creative atmosphere is really important and it has given me some opportunities to play with some amazing people. I was able to record at RCA BMG in Midtown with some of my jazz idols, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. And in 1999, I started playing the electric bass and rock and heavy metal. I got into that whole scene. We played at CBGB, which was just fantastic. It’s kind of crazy to have this jazz side and then this heavy metal side. In 2008, I did a recording for an epic doom metal band in Denmark called Altar of Oblivion. I found myself being called the flute mistress of epic doom metal.