Summer Street Music Series: New York
America seems to be on a collective hunt for new talent. From the warblers of American Idol to the dancing kids on Fame, everyone is looking for the next big star. Yet some of the most talented performers in the nation are the ones you walk by everyday: the men and women who play for money on the streets.
NPR reporters from around the country have nominated their favorite street musicians, and every Friday this summer, All Things Considered will pause to listen in. The series begins with NPR's Robert Smith in New York City. He nominates Alex Lo Dico.
The New York Subway system is designed to move millions of people quickly and efficiently. But on any given Friday afternoon, trombonist Alex Lo Dico can bring commuters to a complete halt.
When Lo Dico plays, he's magnetic. Sweat pours down his face, he bends at the waist, swinging his trombone like an elephant's trunk. When he finishes his solo, Alex steps away from the rest of his combo and begins to work the crowd, shaking hands, accepting donations and hawking CDs.
The subways have been Lo Dico's stage for two decades now, ever since he came to America from Palermo, Sicily. He traveled to New York with his trombone to learn jazz from the masters, but found he was learning just as much down here.
"I have to say the subway, the streets, has been a great teacher for me," Lo Dico tells Robert Smith. "Being able to play that much that long that frequently -- to watch how people react (and) relate to them and still be true to myself. All that stuff is precious. Build a big sound when you never have a microphone. Like the old people had to do."
Lo Dico and the rest of his combo -- Eddie Bishai, Todd Nicholson, Michael Lawler and Eiji Obata -- follow the philosophy, "swing 'til you drop." Lo Dico says that jazz can sometimes get too intellectual and complex. He's learned from the subway that you have to grab people right away.
"You see the crowds, how mixed they are," he explains, "how can you appeal to everybody? You get the beat right, you touch their heart. It's not about complex harmonies. One you get the rhythm, everything else falls into place."
When Lo Dico plays, total strangers start dancing with each other.
"We all like the same thing," Lo Dico says. "We all like a good laugh, a good dance, a smile. You try put everything in that one note -- the whole world in that one note. They recognize it."
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