Buzz Knight 00:00:01
Taking a walk with Buzz Knight.
Jeff Slatnick 00:00:05
Buzz Knight 00:00:06
This is Buzz Knight, the host of the Taking a Walk podcast series, and our special New York City Greenwich Village series rolls on. And my guest is the proprietor of The Music Inn. Jeff Slatnick Jeff, it’s so nice to meet you.
Jeff Slatnick 00:00:20
Nice to meet you, actually, physically, and whoever is out there in the future who might hear this. I’ll never see you, but I might dream you in my thoughts. So let’s see what happens.
Buzz Knight 00:00:33
So we’re going to take a walk through the Music Inn and tell the audience a little bit about the Music Inn. For those that maybe have never run into it.
Jeff Slatnick 00:00:43
well, they can’t see nothing but the music. Inn started in 1958 by a GI who came back from the Korean War, and his wife had a little bit of money and they started a record store. And right away they started selling instruments like guitars and then banjos and mandolin’s, American folk instruments. The 50s was really hot in the Village for American folk music. And then as the 60s rolled in, they went much more international and they had sitars and instruments from China. And I’m not talking about guitars made in China. I’m talking about Chinese instruments and Japanese instruments and African instruments. I got here in this store in 1967. I had come back from California and they got a job playing the sitar in a discotheque in the East Village called the Electric Circus. And I needed strings for the sitar, and I came to the music inn and somebody suggested they had them. And the owner of the store said, listen, hey, you know how to play the sitar? Perhaps you’d be interested in working from now in November till Christmas on Saturday. Just helping, because it’s a busy day and people need help with sitars. Very popular. The Beatles had used sitar in their records and everyone was aware of it at that time. So I started working here then, and then after maybe six months, I set out back to California and studied Indian classical music. Meantime, the store was going on. It was a very busy place. It was open from ten in the morning to ten at night. There were two shifts, and each shift had like six employees on a shift. The guy who originally owned the store, may he rest in peace, was very paranoid of being robbed and everything. So his method was he take all the records out of the covers, put the covers stacked in the bins for customers to peruse, and stuck the records in the wall, locked in the wall when a customer picked a record. And of course, there were a lot less records in the 60s, but when a customer picked a record, we’d have to go find the number of the record and the label it was on, Capital 21765, and put it back in the sleeve anyway. So there were many employees working here doing it. It was busy night and day.
Buzz Knight 00:03:31
This place, when you walk in, has this amazing aura and energy about it. Do you find it just the way it’s just created as a building? Or do the guitars and sitars and instruments bring the aura?
Jeff Slatnick 00:03:50
Yes, I’ll tell you all of it so you can get an idea as we’re walking.
Buzz Knight 00:03:56
Jeff Slatnick 00:03:58
There are guitars everywhere. Yeah, just let me catch up real fast. So I went back to California. I came back in 1976, and I got a job immediately playing music in Midtown. And I just stopped to see if the store was still in business. And the guy asked me again, hey, I remember you. You want to work till Christmas? So during a long period of becoming the store physically, spiritually, and mentally, it was a perfect fit for me. And I started working two days, three days, five days. Now I work seven days a week. After a while, it was just me and the original owner. His wife had died, and he was old, and he had Parkinson’s. So he just sat behind the desk and just sat there all day. And I would just take care of everybody. And I love climbing all over the place. I’d climb on these shelves here that the records were in. And eventually, after he got so ill, he stayed at home all the time. I just ran the store by myself. I found the guy who I played basketball with just a block from here on Greenwich Village. There’s a famous West Fourth Street basketball court. Many people from Kareem all the way down the line played there at one time or another. And I used to play there when I was much younger. And I found a guy there. He was very pleasing. He was big and tall. He could reach up and reach things hanging from the ceiling. And I brought him here, and he started working part time, and he would take care of Jerry, who was now infirmed, and Jerry, who wanted to die, just wanted to get out of here and die. Wouldn’t let him die. Kept him alive. He got into concrete poetry. He would get a big crayon with two hands. He’d write a little poem on a big piece of paper, and he’d take it to these poetry readings. And he suddenly had a new life, and he lived for about another five or six years. And my assistant, who I met at the basketball court, would take him around in a wheelchair, and they had a time. And then eventually he died. And Terran came and worked here with me. And I don’t know where he is today. Maybe show up. You never know. After Jerry died, I put a stairway in the store. There was always a basement, but you had to go outside and around through the hallway in the building to get to the basement. So I hired these guys. They cut a hole in the floor. This is like a building from 1900. So it was quite a thing for them to do. It the beams or pieces of wood that must have been 200 years old. I make instruments, unusual instruments. I’ll show you one here that are carved out of wood. They’re hand carved, so one of them downstairs, they look like this. This is a bass. But downstairs there is these solid body electric citars and Indian type instruments. Although I’ve made pillows and violins and all kinds of things, but as solid body electric instruments with a new kind of organic design that reflects the physics of the process.
Buzz Knight 00:07:32
Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
Jeff Slatnick 00:07:34
Would you like to come downstairs?
Buzz Knight 00:07:36
Oh, I’d love to.
Jeff Slatnick 00:07:37
Let’s do that.
Buzz Knight 00:07:38
What a treasure.
Jeff Slatnick 00:07:42
So when the stairs got cut out, there was a big beam here. I made one of the instruments which will show you downstairs from the beam cut out a guy who was originally one of my students I taught Indian music, was a big strong Viking and we started carving instruments together and we’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. We’ve sold probably about 80 to 100 instruments. We started numbering them. Now, this is 108 and this one was made from the beam in the ceiling. As you can see, the wood is quite interesting. Yeah, look at that. Anyway, it was fun to work with, but it’s a hard wood to work with because it’s not hard, it’s sort of a fake wood. The outer layer, a very thin outer layer, is very hard, but the tree inside is very soft wood. So it kind of like gives a presentation as if it’s a soft tree but a hard tree. But it’s a very flexible bending tree there.
Buzz Knight 00:08:57
Are you still playing?
Jeff Slatnick 00:08:58
I still play a bit every day? A little bit. I don’t perform anymore. We have shows here at the store. We clean out the drums in this room and we turn out the lights and that’s the stage and we set up maybe 40 chairs and we have open mics every Thursday night. We’ve been doing it for years now, having shows. Other people write their own chosen have used the store for the basement here.
Buzz Knight 00:09:27
And that’s the core of Greenwich Village forever. These great places that small venues that so much started and began. But there’s also these little pockets of places like this, right?
Jeff Slatnick 00:09:43
Yeah. I saw Bob Dylan at an open mike at Cafe Wha years ago
Buzz Knight 00:09:50
Did you think he was any good?
Jeff Slatnick 00:09:52
Actually, no. And then he came out with his first record and he hung around this store. He knew Jerry well, the guy who started this store, and he hung around here. He would borrow instruments and go two doors down was a big space cause imagine it’s very crowded upstairs. So he would pick an instrument and go two doors down where there was a big sandal shop. Yoyo, pete at yo. This guy is interviewing me for a podcast. His name is Mr. Knight. Hello there.
Buzz Knight 00:10:30
Yeah, hi. How are you doing, sir? Good, sir. How are you? All right. What’s the publication? It’s a podcast called Taking a Walk. So we’re just walking through and Jeff is telling me the great stories of this amazing place.
Jeff Slatnick 00:10:47
I told you his name is T or Turin, but he’s actually a well known boxing reporter. Chuck Nitty is his name. And he is known by many boxers and stuff like that. Because he’s getting a little heavy.
Buzz Knight 00:11:06
No, you look great. He still know me, though. It’s nice to meet you.
Jeff Slatnick 00:11:09
They’re all afraid of him, I think. Anyway, let’s walk around some more.
Buzz Knight 00:11:26
Sure. I’m loving it.
Jeff Slatnick 00:11:28
This is the percussion room with every kind of percussion, just all kinds of wind instruments from everywhere in the world. Look at this instrument.
Buzz Knight 00:11:52
Do you know if somebody said, hey, can you find absolute and the most obscure thing, you would know exactly where it is.
Jeff Slatnick 00:12:00
Yeah, I would know where it is and what it is.
Buzz Knight 00:12:02
Now, what is this?
Jeff Slatnick 00:12:03
You have like a these are draws of reeds for the wind instrument things. Mouthpieces for all different kinds of instruments.
Buzz Knight 00:12:12
What’s your favorite instrument? Do you have one?
Jeff Slatnick 00:12:14
Well, that’s a good question. When I was a young man and I felt that I like strings, that was always my favorite to play on strings. And I played lots of different string instruments. I started with the violin, and then I got in guitar when I was ten. But of all the instruments, I found that strings without frets that could be plucked really appealed to me. But it was an underdeveloped field, so, of course. Now my favorite instrument is that orange, what I call as a road. It’s based on the Indian surrode, which is a fretless instrument that you slide on, but it’s very vocal. It’s like a voice. You can pluck it and it sustains, and you can play some beautiful music. I’m not going to play for you right now, but that’s okay. I’ll show you around. Over the years, I’ve also been doing comic books here. One day, my son brought home a friend of his, this guy from Trinidad, and he showed me a drawing of my son standing on a pile of rubble, and me standing next to him saying to him, koolae, you better clean this mess up before your mom gets home. And I just thought it was a funny drawing. It’s good. I bought it from him. And then he started bringing me drawings every day. So I suggested if he wanted me to buy his drawings, he had to put him in sequence. So he did a comic book. Then I suggested a couple of stories for comic books, and we sort of started that way. It’s been going on now maybe 20 years. And I guess let’s run its course. We’ve just done our last one, probably.
Buzz Knight 00:14:07
But that sounds like maybe not.
Jeff Slatnick 00:14:10
You never know. I have a new story. But he wants to take a break for a number of years and do other things. So he’s the artist, and I just tell him the stories. Let’s go.
Buzz Knight 00:14:22
How has the village changed, in your opinion, over the years? Or has it?
Jeff Slatnick 00:14:27
Well, the village really hasn’t changed, but of course the world has changed, and everyone knows the world has changed in so many ways. But the village always sort of represents this energy that is the same no matter what happens in the world, politically or socially. And for some reason, the village is a place where you’ve got to imagine the density of the Earth under. It is so great that when these prehistoric rivers carved the Hudson Valley and everything like that, they got to this part of Manhattan and they just took away everything except this rock that became Manhattan. And it’s just solid rock. And as it turns out, gravity is a real force in nature. And the more dense the rock and the more solid it is, the greater it’s gravity. So it seems like people are attracted from all over the world to New York just by the gravity of the situation. But the village is a special place. Before there are any white men, all the Indian tribes would come to the village to have their pow pows. There was a stream that ran from 15th street all the way right through the middle of Washington Square Park and turned just before the store. Maybe if you go down to the corner, the block, you’ll see the river turned, and then it ran all the way to the Hudson. Now, it was a perfect place for Indians to come from different boroughs, different smaller tribes. They would all come and hold probably a whole week pow wow just going, getting high, who knows what, playing music and dancing and the whole thing and discussing their individual political issues. So, of course, it’s an interesting history of the village. The first man who actually farmed the village was an African slave who was freed, who was brought by the Dutch. And it’s a very interesting story, if you want to hear the whole story. It’s quite a fast story. Yeah. Well, this guy’s name was Manuel the Giant, and he was first brought to Manhattan when there were only 20 Dutch settlers here, and they had come from Newfoundland, which was in Canada. And they settled because they heard Henry Hudson had sailed to the Verazano Straits and recognized that there was an island right down there. So they came in, they said in a guy named Staghan arrived from the company to see what the colony had done, and he wrote notes back to the Dutch India Company. And now this actual letter is in The Hague. And he brought this way with him that he had purchased or captured from a spanish or Portuguese ship. And now this guy was his property. So they came here and they found that the Dutch had bought Manhattan in their minds for 60 guilders worth of trinkets. And they already had a supply to send back to the Dutch East India Company of things like, I have the figures written down, but like 2000 minx 1000 otter furs and female artiffers. And it was like a small fortune for $60. He’s bragging, how, what a deal I got. But the man never understood this idea of the thing. They just thought like, you giving us drinking. Says nice, we’ll be nice to you. You’re welcome. Have a good time, enjoy the place. They had no idea. So the Indians were still gathering in the village here, and the Dutch came and thought that the Indians were plotting to get rid of the Dutch. So they came up and slaughtered a number of Indians here. Wow. And that set a very ugly event. Now, this is the interesting part of the story. When they slaughtered him, this one slave manual, the giant ran away and he crossed the Hudson and he ended up just running into the woods as far as he could. He was just freaked out from the whole experience. And he’s thinking he’ll never see another black face, he’ll never see a woman that he could ever be with again. His life is, you know, he doesn’t care if he dies. And he collapses of exhaustion and the Indians fire. And the Indians have never seen a black man and they think he must be a white man’s albino. That when white men have albinos, they look like black men. So they take him to their albino, who is a shaman in the tribe, and he then is healed, brought back to life. He learns to speak some of the language and he’s taught about things that nobody ever knew before, like what’s the weather like here, what are seasons like, what’s to be expected? So he learned all these things from the Indians, but he realized that he still had a debt to pay because he had been freed by this guy stagH hand, in a sense. And he had to pay this guy back. So he said, My duty now is to go and tell the Dutch that these Indians aren’t bad guys and they should learn from them and learn to live with them instead of slaughtering him. They made a big mistake. So he comes back and now there are nine other Indians. Not Indians, nine other black slaves living down by Wall Street. And the Dutch have built a wall there now because they’re really paranoid that the Indians are going to come for them. So he comes back and he starts telling all these other black slaves about what he learned from the Indians and how cool the Indians are. And these are people they can relate to that’s been like this. So all of a sudden, one of the black slaves was murdered, and they accused all the other black slaves, and every one of them said, no, I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I have no idea who did it. And they decided that that said God’s will that somebody has to be punished. So they draw straws, and of course, the shortest straw goes to Manuel the Giant. And it was all set up to be that way. But he’s so big that they tied two ropes, put the ropes around his neck, kicked the ladder out, and both ropes break. True story. Whoever fuck with the ropes the night before or what, who knows? But both ropes break. And of course, all the slaves age. See, it’s God’s will that he lived. So a couple of years later, they brought new slaves and they freed all nine guys, and they all came up here to the village, which was still kind of swampy land, you know, it wasn’t really wild, thick forest. It was more swampy. And there were lots of cleared hills, probably up to Washington Place. There was a nice sloping hill. So they farmed it, and they were the very first ones to farm it. And Manuel the Giant farmed all of Washington Square Park, all the way through where this store is, down to Bedford Street. And the other nine, I don’t know, just different areas. Eventually, some rich guy came and bought the whole village from First Avenue all the way to the Hudson and made it his country estate, just built a big mansion and just let it run wild and just rode around horseback and enjoy it. But this is the beginning in the history of the village. It hasn’t changed much. I love that story.
Buzz Knight 00:23:29
That is sensational. So one of the things I ask a lot of the guests on the podcast, Taking a Walk, is what music means to them and the power of music, what it does, how it makes us feel. Can you speak to what music means to you?
Jeff Slatnick 00:23:52
That’s a big question, but let’s start small, like songs. It’s kind of amazing how it’s hard to remember poems, but everybody remembers songs. They remember all the words. They remember the melody. Maybe they’ve only heard it two or three times, driving in a car or something like that. But they remember, especially if it has some significant vibration, which is the essence of the vibration of people’s existence. Now, that’s what music is. It’s just another frequency level of just the vibrations of our lives. Life is so complicated. You know, Jupiter has a very strong gravitational force that we still feel on the Earth. We’re in Jupiter’s gravitational field when people talk about astrology or something. But the complexity of the vibration of existence in everybody’s life is somehow just touched, just a glimpse in this little range of sound that we were able to hear. And it is what it is. We have our interests in smell, we have our interests in taste, we have certainly the eyes. But the ears give us a subtler level in which we can really sometimes sense the most intimate natures of the being who presents it. And the funny thing is, as a musician, I learned that the only ingredient that’s necessary is that the musician listen. It just takes listening. Everything else is in the hand of divine existence. All you got to do is listen and you hear it, and then it’ll touch other people.
Buzz Knight 00:25:54
That’s an amazing description. If those of you that are not in New York or near the Village when you come to New York, come to the Music Inn
Jeff Slatnick 00:26:05
Yeah. My computer, which is randomly on screensaver saying hello, I love it.
Buzz Knight 00:26:13
Jeff Slatnick thank you for being part of Taking a Walk. I appreciate it. Taking a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, Apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.