Storm Damaged Their Art, and Now It May Take Their Studio Space

Christina Maile has lived at Westbeth, a massive artists’ complex in the West Village, for more than 40 years. For about half that time, she worked out of the building’s sculpture studio, a yawning space with whitewashed brick walls and a soaring ceiling that sits just off a large interior courtyard. There, Ms. Maile and a dozen other sculptors used table saws to slice wood and pipe benders to manipulate metal, creating large-scale pieces for galleries and museums.

But the tools have been cleared away, and the only indications that this once was a working studio are a half-peeled sticker on the window and an iron winch hanging dejectedly from the ceiling.

“This was such a magical place,” Ms. Maile, 69, said as she stood outside her former work space, peering wistfully through the glass windowpanes. “With artists, it isn’t just the affordable apartment; you also need an affordable studio — a place to call your own, to misquote Virginia Woolf.”

Ms. Maile and her neighbors at Westbeth, a rent-regulated building whose tenants are required to be practicing artists when they move in, had used the sculpture area and the adjacent labyrinthine basement as subterranean studios and rooms to store their art.


A man walked past Westbeth, a large artists’ complex in the West Village, where basement space used by artists for studios and storage may be rented commercially.CreditAshley Gilbertson for The New York Times

During Hurricane Sandy, these spaces were submerged in as much as 16 feet of water, destroying nearly all of their contents. Over the past year and a half, the landlord closed off much of the area as part of $5 million in repairs, leaving artists who had worked there unable to gain access to their spaces and anxious over their fate.

After months with little news, the tenants learned recently that the building owners had hired a real estate broker to rent out the basement and sculpture studio to a commercial tenant.

“It is devastating,” said Nasheet Waits, a drummer who grew up in Westbeth and still lives there with his family. He inherited the lease on a basement studio from his father, the percussionist Frederick Waits, who played with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder. “We have had the lease so long, I couldn’t even tell you what the terms were,” said Mr. Waits, 43, who paid $1,325 a month in rent.

He had outfitted the large space, which housed a recording studio, a practice area and enough room for a baby grand piano and several of his father’s vintage drum sets, with $25,000 in soundproofing and recording booths. The flooding caused some $100,000 in damage, and Mr. Waits now rents a much smaller space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“The mission of Westbeth is to promote the creation of the arts, and that is what was going on in the basement,” Mr. Waits said. “For that not to be honored, it just doesn’t sit well.”

Westbeth, which spans an entire city block, opened in 1971 on the site of the former Bell Laboratories at West and Bethune Streets. A city landmark, it was designed by a young Richard Meier and was one of the first complexes in the country to convert obsolete industrial buildings into legal live-work spaces for artists.

The early days were filled with “endless parties, consciousness-raising sessions, group sex and rock music floating through mile-long halls,” as described in Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Diane Arbus, who lived (and committed suicide) at Westbeth. The building is much tamer now; since the 384 apartments are kept affordable (Ms. Maile pays less than $1,400 for a three-bedroom duplex), a number of those endless partyers are still there, now going to bed long before midnight.


Artists once used this space as a sculpture studio to create large-scale pieces for galleries and museums. The landlord, the nonprofit Westbeth Corporation, may rent 70,000 square feet, including most of the basement and the sculpture studio, to raise money for repairs.CreditAshley Gilbertson for The New York Times

The units were intended as live-work spaces, but for many artists they proved too small for the work, so the basement studios became an ad hoc solution. Legally intended only for storage, the basement was dark and damp, cluttered with ceiling pipes and lacking natural light. The artists, who often punched holes through the cinder block walls to install air-conditioners for ventilation, paid little rent or, in some cases such as the sculpture studio, no rent.

The building is not awash in cash, so the landlord, the nonprofit Westbeth Corporation, sees the emptied space as an opportunity.

To raise money for numerous repairs, including a new facade, it hiredDenham Wolf Real Estate Services to gauge interest in leasing 70,000 square feet, including three-quarters of the basement. A major draw is the former sculpture studio, with its 23-foot-high ceilings, and demand has been strong. This includes inquiries from several “major arts organizations looking to create a building within a building,” said Stephen B. Powers, a broker at Denham Wolf, who estimates Westbeth could make up to $2 million a year in rent.

To address the lost space, the landlord is considering setting aside 6,000 square feet in the basement to create about a dozen new artist studios, said Steven Neil, the executive director of Westbeth Corporation. There would still be fewer studios and storage spaces than before the hurricane, and rents would be higher to account for reconstruction costs, he said.

As for the new commercial tenants, the Westbeth Corporation is not required to limit its search to arts organizations, but it will give them preference and offer discounted rents for businesses that have an arts focus, such as acting, film production and media companies. “It isn’t like this is a traditional landlord just out to make as much money as possible,” Mr. Powers said.

If large studio spaces are no longer available, several artists said they would be forced to change the type of art they create. Karen Santry waited 20 years to secure an apartment at Westbeth in 1990, and ever since she worked out of the sculpture studio. There, she cut and painted 16-foot Japanese Kabuki figures from rosewood. Since the storm, Ms. Santry, 65, lost $500,000 in work to water damage, and she now rents a much smaller studio in a neighboring Westbeth building. “I am just shocked. If I can’t get back my space, I will start creating tiny paintings like Vermeer,” she said.

Jane Klein, 43, a photographer who grew up in Westbeth and ran a popular flea market out of the basement before the storm, said she would like to see a new tenant “lease the basement and then turn it back into affordable studios for artists.” Yet she recognizes that this is unlikely.

“We know that we are blessed to be here,” Ms. Klein said. “But we are poor people living in an extraordinarily expensive neighborhood. Most of us go outside the neighborhood to do our grocery shopping. And many of us won’t be able to afford these new studios, if they are ever built.”

Ballad of Sam Langford (Hipnotic) by Terrell Holmes

The New York Jazz Record

Sam Langford (1883-1956) was a Canadian-born black boxer regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time. He was denied a shot at the heavyweight title because of his fear-inspiring skills (Jack Johnson refused to fight him) and generous servings of apple pie-flavored racism. He was known ironically as “The Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows” and inimically as “The Boston Tarbaby”.

Perhaps the jazz group Tarbaby felt a kind of empathy for this fighter. The trio of pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits comprises the core group; trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake join them here. Although this isn’t a concept album about Langford or boxing, it opens with the pulsating, thrashing chaos of “Title Bout (Opening Round)”. There’s no feeling out here as the band goes full tilt with a Hearns-Hagler intensity. Lake’s alto sounds at once defiant and imploring on “Aztec”, a tune that has a touch of the weary blues, with a gritty head that recalls “Nefertiti”. One hears the inexorable march of time in Evans’ elegiac “When”. At times the band uses a Revis plucked ostinato as an organizing principle, with other bandmembers soloing furiously around it. Such is the case with “Rolling Vamp” and the evocative “August”, which conjures up images of a peaceful, sun-dappled forest through the efforts of Waits on percussion and recorder, with call-and response finger pianos by Revis and Matthew Evans, Orrin’s son. In addition to his eloquent playing, Waits contributes the beautiful ballad “Kush”. Akinmusire’s heartfelt duet with Evans, “Asiam”, displays his singular trumpet style, which he underscores with a delightfully manic performance on the multifaceted “Korean Bounce”.

Tarbaby has always been a jazz band unafraid to take chances. However, considering the level of talent the members bring to the table any risk is minimal. This excellent album proves that there is no genre or construct that this band can’t conquer and invigorate. Maybe nobody today has heard of Sam Langford, but everybody should know about Tarbaby.

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The New York Jazz Record on Tarbaby

The ‘expandable’ unit Tarbaby, cooperatively led by pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits, has existed in various incarnations with several different frontlines, but none more worthy of its defiant name than the raucous unit featuring fiery alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and French avant guitarist Marc Ducret that held forth at Le Poisson Rouge (Sep. 11th). Playing music from a forthcoming album dedicated to the revolutionary philosopher Frantz Fanon, the band opened the set with Revis’ “Black Skins, White Masks”, an episodic journey that started off with dark rumbling solo piano chords, evolving into a sonic tapestry of ethereal space guitar and other worldly saxophone squeals over impressionistic rhythms that soon segued into a funky beat backing freebopping solos. Lake’s “Fanon” opened with a solemn classically-influenced, gospel- tinged piano introduction, setting the tone for the composer’s impassioned voicelike solo. Revis’ “O” was a tour de force outing with powerful solos punctuated by surprising vocal outbursts of “Oh!” by the band, delighting the enthusiastic house. A solo bass interlude began Ducret’s “Blues D’Omera”, a commanding yet subtle guitar-propelled outer space exploration, Lake blowing soft alto overtones and Evans drawing alien sounds from the inside of the piano over Waits’ masterful brushwork. The band ended the set with a rocking all-out five man musical assault on Don Cherry’s “Awake Nu”. – Russ Musto

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The Dozens: Nasheet Waits Selects 12 Classic Max Roach Tracks

In an era when drummers consider it a default performance practice to navigate a global template of rhythmic expression, it is important to remember that Max Roach (1924-2007) is the single most important figure in this development.

Max Roach, by Richard Laird

Just ask the drummers who knew him, as I did a few years back when Downbeat gave me the honor of writing a lengthy obituary.  Before Max, all the drummers, even the great ones like Baby Dodds or Gene Krupa or Chick Webb, approached soloing on the drumset from more of a rudimental and snare drum concept,  said Billy Hart.  Max was the first one to take the rudiments and spread them melodically around the whole drumset bass drum, tom-tom, snare drum, cymbal.

Max was adamant that it was just as important for him to know the form and melody as everybody else,  Kenny Washington added.  He took independence between two hands and two feet to the next level.

Roach was never content to recreate the past, which he associated with segregation times, and he spent the second half of his career in perpetual forward motion, determinedly bridging stylistic categories.  Max may have used 30 signature things, but he used them in so many different ways,  Jeff  Tain  Watts remarked.  One piece of vocabulary could function as a solo idea, a melody for a solo drum piece. He d take the same fragment of melodic material and take it out of time, use it like splashing colors on a canvas or whatever, or use it in an avant-garde context, like his duets with Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton. That cued me not to be so compartmentalized with certain stuff for soloing and other stuff for something else, but just to use vocabulary your own vocabulary to serve many functions.

Born on Jan. 10, 1924, in Newland, N.C., and raised in Brooklyn, Roach was the first jazz musician to treat the drum set both functionally and as an autonomous instrument of limitless artistic possibility. As a teenager, Roach paid close attention to  drummers who could solo  Jo Jones, Sid Catlett, Chick Webb, Cozy Cole. Toward the end of his studies at Boys High School, he began riding the subway from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Harlem for late-night sessions at Minton s Playhouse and Monroe s uptown House, where the likes of Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and Dizzy Gillespie, all Roach s elders by several years, explored alternative approaches to the status quo.

By 1942, they had reharmonized blues forms and Tin Pan Alley tunes, changing keys, elasticizing the beat and setting hellfire tempos that discouraged weaker players from taking the bandstand when serious work was taking place. Before World War II ended, the new sound was sufficiently established to have a name bebop.

Thoroughly conversant in how to push a big band he hit the road with Benny Carter in 1944 and 1945, and filled in for Sonny Greer with Duke Ellington in early 1942 with four-to-the-floor on the bass drum and tricks with the sticks, Roach made his first record in 1943 with Coleman Hawkins, and played on Hawkins  ur-bebop 1944 session with Gillespie on which  Woody  N  You  debuted. But as Charlie Parker s primary drummer in 1944 and 1945 and from 1947 49, Roach developed a technique that allowed him to keep pace with and enhance Parker s ferocious velocities and ingenious rhythmic displacements. His famous polyrhythmic solo on Bud Powell s  Un Poco Loco  in 1951 foreshadowed things to come in the next decade.

During the early 1950s, Roach studied composition at Manhattan School of Music and co-founded, with Charles Mingus, Debut Records one of the first musician-run record companies. In 1954, he formed the Max Roach Clifford Brown Quintet, in which he elaborated his concept of transforming the drum set into what he liked to call the multiple percussion set, treating each component as a unique instrument, while weaving his patterns into an elaborate, kinetic design. After the death of Brown and pianist Richie Powell in 1956, he battled depression and anger, but continued to lead a succession of bands with saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, Stanley Turrentine, Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, and Gary Bartz, trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, Richard Williams, Freddie Hubbard, and Charles Tolliver, tubist Ray Draper, and pianists Mal Waldron and Stanley Cowell.

Roach also performed as a sideman on such essential  50s recordings as Thelonious Monk s Brilliant Corners and Sonny Rollins  Saxophone Colossus and The Freedom Suite, as well as important dates by Herbie Nichols, J.J. Johnson and Little. He interpolated African and Afro-Caribbean strategies into his flow, incorporated orchestral percussion into his drum set and worked compositionally with odd meters, polyrhythm and drum tonality. He gave equal weight to both a song s melodic contour and its beat.  Conversations,  from 1953, was his first recorded drum solo; by the end of the decade, he had developed a body of singular compositions for solo performance built on elemental but difficult-to-execute rudiments upon which he improvised with endless permutations.

He continued to expand his scope through the  60s. A long-standing member of Bedford-Stuyvesant s Concord Baptist Church, he incorporated the voice both the singular instrument of his then-wife, Abbey Lincoln, and also choirs into his presentation. It was the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and he used his music as a vehicle for struggle, expressing views on the zeitgeist in both the titles of his albums and compositions  We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite  (commissioned by the NAACP for the approaching centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation),  Garvey s Ghost,   It s Time  and his approach to performing them.

Roach joined the University of Massachusetts, Amherst faculty in the early  70s, and seemed to use the post as a platform from which to broaden his expression. In 1971, he joined forces with a cohort of New York-based percussionists to form M Boom, a cooperative nine-man ensemble that addressed a global array of skin-on-skin and mallet instruments; and in the early  80s he formed the Max Roach Double Quartet, blending his group, the Max Roach Quartet with the Uptown String Quartet, with his daughter, Maxine Roach. He recorded with a large choir and with a symphony orchestra. A 1974 duet recording with Abdullah Ibrahim launched a series of extraordinary musical conversations with speculative improvisers Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp; these sparked subsequent encounters with pianists Connie Crothers and Mal Waldron, and a 1989 meeting with his early mentor Gillespie.

He also reached out to artists representing other musical styles and artistic genres playing drums for break dancers and turntablists in 1983; collaborating with Amiri Baraka on a musical about Harlem numbers king Bumpy Johnson, and with Sonia Sanchez on drum-freestyle improv; improvising to video images from Kit Fitzgerald, to moves from dancer Bill T. Jones, and to freestyle verse from his nephew, Fred  Fab Five Freddie  Braithwaite, who conjured the epigram,  The man with the fresh approach, Max Roach.  He scored plays by Shakespeare and Sam Shepard, composed for choreographer Alvin Ailey, and set up transcultural hybrids with a Japanese kodo ensemble, gitano flamenco singers, and an ad hoc gathering of Jewish and Arab percussionists in Israel.

Nasheet Waits (photo by Jimmy Katz)

No drummer born after the Baby Boom knew Roach more intimately than Nasheet Waits, whose father, the excellent drummer Frederick Douglas  Freddie  Waits (1940-1989), was an original member of M Boom. Nasheet attended high school with Roach s twin daughters, Ayo and Dara, and after Freddie Waits passed away, Roach took Nasheet under his wing, eventually hiring him to play with M Boom.

Max always used to say that the drums were treated like the nigger in the band disrespected in terms of your knowledge of music, your ability to be  a real musician.   Waits says.  Nowadays drummers like Tyshawn Sorey and Marcus Gilmore write as well as anybody else. You have to be to be aware of what s happening on a lot of levels to be able to play the music. Max may have been the first of his kind like that. He was known as a reader. That s why he got called to play with Duke Ellington when Sonny Greer was ailing. But then, he said, when he got up to play the chart, there was no chart! So it became instinctual. That s something that he always stressed to me, personally.

I had the good fortune of being in his presence quite a bit, on a one-on-one basis, setting up drums and just being around the house. I was starting to get back into playing, and I d be asking him questions, but his answers were always in a parable, always presented as esoteric knowledge, like trying to get information from a griot and receiving it as a riddle. He always emphasized that the key was to find your own voice, your own path. Everything I ve heard he plays on always sounds like he s on the edge, always taking chances, taking it to another level, not satisfied playing the role that drummers traditionally play and still play.

Young Drums… 13 Who Set the Beat For The Future Downbeat November 2003 (Jazz, Blues, and Beyond) By James Hale

“There was a time when there seemed to be just a few first-rate drummers. Every recording that grooved in really interesting ways either featured one of the remaining masters like Elvin Jones or Roy Haynes or one of a handful from the next generation: Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Paul Motian and their peers. In the last 20 years, there has been a flood of new time-keepers coming onto the scene, and a number of them – including Matt Wilson, Brian Blade, Jeff Watts and Terri Lyne Carrington – have made some serious noise, displacing more senior players on DownBeat’s Critics Poll. The deluge hasn’t stopped. New voices keep making themselves heard in every style of jazz, bringing a variety of backgrounds, influences and technical approaches to the music. To highlight the range of expression being heard, we picked a baker’s dozen superb drummers under 40 – representing a variety of styles and locales – who might not yet have caught your ear. Like many sons, Nasheet Waits, 33, wanted to expand the horizons beyond the family business but was drawn back in by his father’s premature death. Freddie Waits – the impeccably precise drummer for McCoy Tyner, Max Roach’s M’Boom, Mercer Ellington and others – never pushed his son to take up the drums, but you can’t always deny your destiny. “I always had an affinity for music, and being around it so much, it was just second nature to me. My father never forced it, but when he passed away (at the age of 46 in 1989) I came home to New York from college and his drums were all there. It just seemed like a natural thing to do.” “Natural” and “organic” are also the words Waits used to describe his style, which has augmented music by Antonio Hart, Joe Lovano, Andrew Hill, Geri Allen and Jaki Byard, among others. Today, he is one-third of Jason Moran’s groundbreaking Bandwagon trio as well as the beat behind Fred Hersch’s trio. Waits cites “Uncle Max” Roach and Michael Carvin as being major influences on his development, although he also tips his hat to Billy Hart, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. What he has in common with all of them is openness to all types of music, which in his case encompasses James Brown, tabla music and hip-hop. Having big ears is a priority in Moran’s trio, where both Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen are required to respond to a huge range of musical cues. “This band is a whole lot of fun, but it gives me an entire new level of responsibility to deal with as well. Dealing with the vocabulary that we do has definitely forced me to take my playing up a notch.”