David Gonzalez reports from corners of the city in words and pictures.
On a leafy Brooklyn block, past a plain red door and down a narrow staircase, Andrea Brachfeld is curled up in a chair, head bobbing to a funky bass solo being played in a nearby room. Here in this cramped basement recording studio off the Prospect Park Parade Grounds, she is content. She is grooving. She is fulfilled.
Maybe you can have it all — if you know what you want.
In 2005, she awoke one morning to discover she could no longer play the flute — the instrument that first helped her make her name as one of the only women playing charanga, an elegant Latin music with Cuban roots. Suddenly, something that had come naturally — and through incessant study and practice — became puzzlingly hard.
She saw doctors. She worried. And then, in 2009, she had her epiphany.
“The energy I had put out was ‘Why, why, why?’ But when I changed it to ‘cure’ instead of ‘why,’ a cure came to me. And when I was finally able to play — not 100 percent, but enough — I asked, ‘What do I love to play?’ There was only one answer. Jazz.”
Not that she had ever totally stopped. As a teenager, she was taught by the legendary Jimmy Heath during Jazzmobile workshops in Manhattan. And she continued her study in college, where she fell into the orbit of the Latin music scene, eventually joining Charanga 76. Later, she got a call from a Venezuelan promoter who wanted her to do her thing in Caracas.
“He said, ‘I’ll give you anything you want,’ ” she recalled. “I had just read if you don’t want a gig, ask for everything you can possibly think of. So I did. And he said yes. I went for a month and stayed for two and a half years.”
She played Latin jazz and jingles. She had a daughter, then returned home to raised her child, making the wise move to also become certified as a teacher (which gives her the pension many working musicians have sacrificed in the pursuit of their art).
Jazz was never far from her heart, and after her epiphany it has come front and center again. She knows some people say there’s no future in it, a thought she dismisses with a wave of her hand, as if she were giving direction to a young musician.
“It’s too bad people put out that kind of negative energy,” she said. “If you say it is such, that I don’t have a chance, the universe will respond by making it such. But it’s about visualizing. I just did a record this summer, a straight-ahead jazz record. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to study be-bop like a crazy lady. I’m going to practice and rehearse and record for 10 hours a day.’ And everything started coming to me.”
On a recent Saturday, several musicians joined her in the basement at Park West Studios, were she was overdubbing their parts for an upcoming Latin fusion album she is producing (her first apart from her own recordings). Carlos Mena went over his bass parts, plucking out a solo, relaxing after Ms. Brachfeld whispered suggestively into his ear. He laughed, relaxed and dove back into the music.
She returned to the control room and curled up on the chair. The bass playing filled the room. Eyes closed, she tapped in rhythm on her knee and tilted her head back.
“There you go, baby,” she said, swinging her head from side to side. “O.K. Go for it, baby! Hit it and roll!”
Here eyes were still closed. But whatever she saw, it made her smile.
Every other week in Side Street, David Gonzalez seeks the city’s out-of-the way places and people, capturing moments and moods in words and pictures.