Henry Warner is the saxophonist for the Henry Warner Trio, of which there are four members. They play beneath Grand Central Terminal.
Age, occupation, from whence, where now?
I’l be 65 this summer. Musician. Been in New York all my life. Now I live in Mount Vernon, that’s right outside of the Bronx.
What instruments do you play, what kind of music?
Clarinet, and I got all the saxophones—you know, the regular route for the cat. Most of the time, I play jazz. I listen to the avant-garde a lot, ’cause I play that too. In fact that’s where we get our most moneys from. You can starve if you’re just playing jazz.
How did you hook up with your bandmates, and with Music Under New York?
Well I used to play down in the subways in the 70s, late 60s. There were these people, the Higginbottoms, that started organizing all the people that played down there and we got a little organization together called Music Under New York. It started maybe ’72, ’73, something like that. He [Mr. Higgenbottom] was just here too, one of the starters. Anyway, you meet a lot of interesting people down here. This guy [on drums] here I know him since he was a lil’ teenager—Sam Grisham, drummer. I know Sam a long time and Patrick [on keyboards]—when he first came to New York about 25 years ago, me, him, and Sam used to play together, the thee of us out right here, and then Brother Burroughs [cello]… I know all these guys over 20 years.
Is Grand Central the best stage to play?
Well, what happens now is they have these special things they do. This is a Kwanzaa-week program. It’s a gig for us. It’s not like we’re just out here—I mean, we can do that too, but this is a gig. They pay us to do this. That’s what I do now, mostly special things. And I also work for MTA a lot. We’re going to have a gig with the MTA at the Apollo Theater on January 13th. They do a little gig, you know, some kind of thing they got going. I never pay attention to this stuff, till we get there and we find out what’s happening.
Where do you play aboveground?
We play a lot of places. And then we play a lot with different people too. We’re kind of spread out. It’s hard to hold a group together now, you know? We play all over. Uptown, there’s a few spots up there we play. One of the places is called—what’s that place called? Colonel Charles Young Holtz’s Legion? [Laughter, while bandmates each suggest variations.] Well, it’s on 132nd between Seventh and Eighth. And there’s another little place I play called the Pub, on 148th and St. Nicholas. We play all the places, man. And with Music Under New York we play all over the place. Different little spots and all these city jobs.
Have you gone on the road?
Well I’ve gone to Paris, I’ve gone to England. I’ve gone to a couple of little places down south.
Did you play on the Tube or the Metro?
[Big laughs.] No, no, wasn’t underground.
Who are your favorite musicians?
Oh man, I like all the greats. The Sonny Rollins and the Charlie Parkers and the Thelonious Monk music. When I was coming up, in the 50s, there was this little era where, you know, Miles and Sonny and Jackie McLean and these guys—it was an exciting time. It seems like the only two left from them guys are Jackie McLean and Sonny Rollins. The rest of that scene has dried up a little bit, but I still see them cats. I know them.
How has the music scene in New York changed since you started playing?
Since Winton Marsalis got up here, started telling people what was right, we’ve all suffered. They got all the gigs up there. Up there at—What is that place? Some new place they just put up, in Lincoln Center. They got all the gigs, and they got a style that they play that don’t have nothin’ to do with what we do, and people think that’s it. You suffer if you’re not doing what people think is good.
What do you think of hip-hop?
You know what I like about it? They invented something. That’s about it. As far as them calling it music, I don’t like that because it’s just poetry and rhythm. As far as New York, there was a time before they took all the instruments out of the schools. When I was growing up, going to school and getting a free instrument wasn’t nothing. Kids don’t have a chance to learn any instruments now. So now, the kids came up with something, and I like that, you know? That was really hip.
But as far as what they’re doing to sell things—what are they crazy? You got naked girls in front ofthem, they’re cursing out people. It’s kind of wild. But it’s not about music, let’s just put it like that. tell you that.
Best bargain to be found in the city?
Right here in the subway, Jack! Right here in the damn subway! We’re sitting up here playing all day long. Best bargain in New York.
Do you own an iPod?
Huh? A what?
What advice would you give to Mayor Bloomberg?
He seems like he’s for the music in New York. He’s not really messing with us. Giuliani used to come around here and mess with us. He’d send the police over, sometimes they’d look in the box, try to see if they could estimate how much you got so we could pay taxes. I’d ask Bloomberg to make a spot like this an enclosure for us to play. It’s cold down here.