“My Life On The Wild Side of The Music Business”–Part Two

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The authors Class of 1961 HSM&A ring

Over the next several weeks I will be publishing excerpts of chapters from my upcoming book “My Life on The Wild Side of The Music Business.” The story starts unfolding around the 1980s when New York City was a very different place as many of you who were around will remember—prostitutes walked freely on Times Square, which was still dotted with peep-show establishments and movie theaters that showed porn.

Mind you that’s not the focus of my book; I just brought it up to remind you that New York wasn’t always the way people know it today. Those of you who weren’t around yet or were still too young will get to taste a different New York City flavor from back in the day. You’ll learn about me and my friends and what became of them and what became of me. I’d like to hear from you all as my story unfolds. You can post your comments on guerrillajournalism after every segment of my story is published or you can reach me via wmunford@nyc.rr.com

Hopefully, at the end of our journey you’ll order a copy of my book or even come to a book signing. If you missed the first piece please click here

Well, here we go….

Chapter Two: Ha! As A Kid, I Beat Richard Ten-Ryk in Handball!

Now, a little bit of background. I was an art student when I was young. I graduated grade school in Red Hook, Brooklyn and then from The High School of Music & Art in 1961. Some music had definitely rubbed off on me. M&A was a great school on 443-465 West 135th in Harlem. It was started by New York City Mayor Fierello LaGuardia back in 1936 and it lasted at that location until 1984. It is now part of Lincoln Center, near 66th St. in Manhattan.

The students were very well educated which is what great schools are supposed to do. My home room teacher, Mr. Glazer, taught music. There was also a grand piano in my home-room!  I don’t think anyone can be around one of these really beautiful machines and not be changed by it.

It was well cared for. I never heard it out of tune in the four years I was privileged to be in its presence.

The Girls! I always heard people comment that the girls at Music & Art had the most beautiful legs in New York City. It was rumored that this was due to the simple fact that they had to climb a long steep stairway going from the 8th Avenue subway at 135th Street all the way up to the school at the top of the hill. For four years, I had the wonderful opportunity of trying to see under the girls’ skirts as they ascended to the heights. This might be why I hardly ever missed a day of school.

Another reason might have been that I really loved school. Our first class of the day was in our home-room where Mr. Glazer and that grand piano lived. The great thing was that we had students that could really play that beautiful instrument. One of my classmates was a Liberace look-alike and a sound-alike. I don’t remember his real name now. We had performances by our Liberace on a regular basis.

Except for his age, you couldn’t tell the difference and he had a beautiful personality which also matched Liberace’s. I’m talking about the young Liberace not the one that was surrounded by controversy towards the last years of his life. Another student in my class excelled on twelve-brass instruments. In another home-room we had a male singer, named Marty, whose voice was as smooth as honey and when weather allowed, Marty and his girl friend along with all the best singers gathered after class for Doo Wap street corner performances.

Can you grow up and be educated in an environment any better than this? Yes, I was an art student, but in this wonderful school you could become anything you wanted and many art students also became musicians. Kids could really dream big.

One of my best friends was Richard Ten-Ryk. To tell you the truth, I never asked him the origin of that name because I never called him by his last name. He later took the stage name of Richard Tee. He became very successful as a studio musician and played with lots of famous people in the music industry. When he made it big Tee’s Jazz ensemble was the Richard Tee Committee. He was also a founding member of a band called “Stuff” and in 1981 he played piano for the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park. Tee played with a Who’s Who of Music: Aretha Franklin; Carly Simon; The Bee Gees; Barbra Streisand; Eric Clapton; Nina Simone; Roberta Flack; Diana Ross; Chuck Mangione; Billy Joel; Etta James; Chaka Khan; George Harrison; and the list just goes on.

Tee was my proverbial “Brother from another Mother”. We hung out a lot. He was a music student who was also a street thug, somewhat like me. His street gang was “The Jolly Stompers” out of Brooklyn, mine was the “El Kovons” also out of Brooklyn. So we had a shared culture. We play-fought a lot, which was very common among gang members, and he knocked me out cold once. We were only supposed to hit each other from neck to waist so he must have broken the rules, or I put my face where it shouldn’t have been, but our friendship was such that the violation, mine or his, didn’t even register. But it wasn’t really Richard’s fault. At one point I wanted to be a boxer. I was even in training to become a fighter. Then when I got in the ring I kept getting knocked out. I discovered that I had a glass jaw.

Tee was a great single wall handball player and thanks to him teaching me, we both played on the school handball team. If memory serves correctly, he placed Fourth one year in a New York City Handball Tournament. In all the years we played together, I only beat him once.

He always played in “Brogans” which were hard leather shoes with an inch thick sole and he wore very baggy suit pants. I wore handball sneakers which didn’t help me much against him!

In the only game I ever won, I won by just by one point. The play was so competitive that I could hardly believe that I’d finally beaten him. I had pulled a rabbit out of a hat. I gave it everything I had, as usual and I finally, finally beat Richard Ten-Ryk. The play was long and so exhausting that we both wound up on the ground laughing so hard and trying  to recover at the same time. It was like we were both having fits and he was actually holding on to his feet, one in each hand. It went on for so long that I can almost still feel the excitement over fifty years later as I write today.

Tee was extremely competitive and would do almost anything legal to win. This made him a great player. He could send that little black ball to the wall at an angle, and put so much spin on it that it would almost come back into his hand like a yo-yo! He was the only player I’ve ever gone up against that could do that. We played the year round and once, the snow fall was so heavy that we couldn’t see the ball as it disappeared into the drifting and falling flakes. We had to listen for the sound of it hitting the wall then try to figure out based on that, plus the angle of entry, where it might appear when it came out of the snow!

He tried to teach me how to apply “extreme English” to the ball, which is what we called the art of putting on a lot of spin. I tried very hard to do it but it was only many years later that I finally learned how. This was almost twenty years later, in a doubles game in Mt. Morris in Harlem. I was asked by one of my opponents what it was that I was trying to do on a shot I had tried but failed to make. I explained but was told by the opponent that a shot like that, where the ball becomes a yo-yo and comes back to your hand was impossible. During the play, a foul had been called, so we had to play that same point over. Something stunning happened. Starting with the serve, we played the point exactly as we played it before. Everyone made the same shots in exactly the same way as if we were robots executing the same program over again, except this time, when I tried that same impossible shot, the extreme spin I was able to put on the ball made it stay in-bounds and this time and we won the game. We all walked off the court with nobody saying a word. We just all packed up and quietly went home. I had finally made the shot that Richard had taught me. He was such a great player, and that’s why beating him, if only once, meant so much.

Richard could play anything or any style on the piano. He played classical, jazz, R&B or any style you could name and he did it all well. He was a big man with hands like hams that were extremely fast.

He played with all of the top performers as I told you. Just Google “Richard Tee, Musician” for the lengthy details. Over the years, I lost touch with Tee since I went into the photography business first before migrating into music. When I found myself in the music business, which I’ll talk more about later, I decided I’d connect with Richard again.  I realized I was moving into his world so I asked around and met someone who knew him and also knew where he was. Our friendship had been so tight that I knew we probably would soon be working together again. I knew he would fast-track me into the upper reaches of the music business. There was no way that this would not happen. But it didn’t happen. When I finally got to Tee, he was in a hospital, dying.

I hadn’t seen his mother in many years, so it was nice to see her, but I would have wished for better circumstances. I also met his wife Eleana Steinberg Tee for the first time there in the hospital. She was distraught. I pretty much left her alone, since she didn’t know me.

Richard and I had a mutual friend and he held a small digital tape recorder to Richard’s ear so he could hear the music they had been working on together. He smiled in approval. That hospital visit was the last time I saw him.

I needed his help to offset all the setbacks I had experienced by that time, which I’ll talk about later, but my friend passed away, almost while I was holding his hand. Richard Ten-Ryk was only 49 years old when he died of prostate cancer in 1993.

Life is a Bitch.

He now rests in the Artist Cemetery in Woodstock, New York.

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