Gotham City Band Keeps Ragtime and Jazz Alive in the Big Apple

By Dave Paone
Dave Paone
Dave Paone
Dave Paone covers New York City.
August 9, 2022 Updated: August 9, 2022

The scene in the jazz club was “The Great Gatsby” meets “Sultans of Swing.”

It didn’t play out in “London Town,” but on a summer night in New York City’s Greenwich Village. There was actually a “group of young boys” (well, they were 23) who were there to see a “trumpet-playing band.”

The venue was the historic Zinc Bar, which retains its original Art Deco design, and the cabaret-style space is aptly called “The Gatsby Room.”

It wasn’t the Sultans of Swing playing but Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band, and they played ragtime, classic jazz, standards, and a few original compositions for about 50 patrons.

New York City has a thriving, vintage music scene, and Waldo and his band are in the center of it.

Epoch Times Photo
The Gotham City Band performs at Zinc Bar in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. (Dave Paone/The Epoch Times)

Beginnings

Waldo was born in Ohio in 1944 and had the good fortune of living across the street from a lawyer who had an enormous collection of jazz records. The lawyer let any interested neighbors, such as Waldo, listen to them if they wanted to.

Down the block was Anthony’s, which Waldo described as “literally the world’s largest record store.” Back in the day, there were “listening booths,” where a customer could play the record he was thinking of buying before making the purchase. Waldo spent a lot of time in those booths and bought records with paper route money.

Having been born in 1944, Waldo was there for the birth of rock and roll and, several years later, the arrival of The Beatles. But it was ragtime that was the right fit.

“Ragtime was the first music I got really crazy about,” Waldo said. “It just spoke to me.”

He had his first piano lesson in third grade and by high school, had his own Dixieland band, The Fungus Five Plus Two. Their slogan was, “Our music grows on you.” The band performed “Tiger Rag” on national television on “Ted Mack & the Original Amateur Hour” in 1963.

Piano Lessons From Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake was a famous ragtime composer and pianist and one of the greats of the genre.

While in high school, Waldo heard a reissue of Blake’s composition and recording, “The Charleston Rag,” from 1921. In an effort to learn how to play it, he searched for the sheet music but it wasn’t available.

Someone suggested writing to Blake in New York and asking him for it, which Waldo did. Blake responded by mailing Waldo a stack of sheet music, which included the song.

Waldo and Blake met in 1967, when Waldo performed “The Charleston Rag” at the St. Louis Ragtime Festival. Blake also performed at the festival and said to the audience, “This man, Terry Waldo, played my ‘Charleston Rag,’ and if he’d been a woman, I would have married him!”

Years later, Waldo visited Blake at his Brooklyn residence, with tape recorder in hand, and received his first private piano lesson from a living jazz legend. Waldo used the recording for a radio series he had at the time.

It didn’t end there. Blake’s music was enjoying a resurgence, and Waldo invited him to Ohio, where he was teaching on the university level. Waldo was able to secure some television time for Blake there, who stayed at Waldo’s house for a week.

The converse played out when Waldo would stay in Brooklyn with Blake for a week at a time, with more piano lessons.

Waldo formed his Gotham City Band in the early 1980s when he relocated to New York, and it’s had various incarnations since then, with Waldo being the only constant.

The Band Members

Epoch Times Photo
As part of the 34th Street Partnership, the Gotham City Band performs a free concert outside of the Moynihan Train Hall in New York City, with (L-R) Mike Hashim, Mike Davis, and Ricky Alexander. (Dave Paone/The Epoch Times)

Ricky Alexander plays the clarinet and sometimes saxophone for the Gotham City Band.

He switched from the sax to the clarinet for two reasons. One was professional: “Everybody and their mother plays the saxophone already, so the clarinet kind of sets me apart which is useful professionally,” he told The Epoch Times.

The other reason was practical: “The primary reason that I like the clarinet is because of the schlep. I don’t have to carry around a heavy instrument with me all the time.”

Although he owns an alto sax, which is one of the smallest saxophones, he finds it “surprisingly heavy” and said, “every ounce counts when you’re in New York City, you know what I mean?”

The 33-year-old was first introduced to jazz by a music teacher in elementary school.

Alexander purposely dresses in a classic style, and with his round, wire-framed glasses and thick mustache and eyebrows, he resembles Groucho Marx, making his look even more authentic to the era.

Danny Tobias started playing trumpet in a big band at age 15, which had gigs three nights a week. But it was at 25 that he discovered trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s jazz band The Hot Five.

It “flipped me out,” the 59-year-old said. “I just loved it.”

“I’m very lucky that this bunch of younger musicians who are interested in this stuff are now in New York and I have access to them,” Waldo said.

Tatiana Eva-Marie is the band’s vocalist. She had heard of Waldo through her network of musicians in New York City and eventually became a fan.

“I went to hear him religiously once a week—maybe two years—I was always there,” she told American Essence.

A record producer who is known for throwing lavish parties hired Waldo to perform at one and Tatiana to sing there, thus starting their professional relationship.

“He has a wonderful sense of humor and he likes to talk a lot of nonsense and I like to do that, too, so we were just peas in a pod,” Tatiana said.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of witty banter between Waldo and his band on stage, and Tobias swears none of it is scripted, although Tatiana said they have their “recurring jokes.”

At the Zinc Bar performance, after playing a number, Waldo said, “I wrote that, by the way,” to which a band member quipped, “I didn’t think you had it in you,” which delighted the audience.

The music the band plays is anywhere from 70 to more than 100 years old yet Tatiana feels it’s not just a relic of a long-gone era. “I don’t think that they’re trying to be a museum piece,” she said. “It’s not historical reenactment [of] any kind.”

Kimberly Hawkey filled in for Tatiana in the show at Zinc Bar. She had been singing with the band for a few months, but had met Waldo several years ago when they performed at BlackTail Bar in Manhattan.

“I have been singing since I could make sound,” Hawkey told The Epoch Times. “But singing jazz is a different story. I began singing jazz professionally after college.”

At age 23, Hawkey knew about classic jazz but sang it for the first time when she entered (and won) the American Traditions Vocal Competition in Savannah, Georgia.

She sang the Harry James–Helen Forrest swing number, “I Had the Craziest Dream,” and has been singing songs in the genre for the past 11 years.

Not only is Hawkey a throwback to the era, she even looks the part, and has been told she resembles Lauren Bacall.

Regular Gigs

Epoch Times Photo
It may not be Madison Square Garden, but it’s across the street. The Gotham City Band performs a free concert for New Yorkers. (Dave Paone/The Epoch Times)

Earlier this year, the band recorded a CD with Tatiana on vocals and they hope to record a second one before the year is out. In addition to the Zinc Bar’s weekly shows, the band performs weekly at a second jazz club, Arthur’s Tavern, also in Manhattan.

Both venues attract a younger audience, which Waldo is very happy to see.

The band regularly plays free sidewalk concerts for busy New Yorkers, through the 34th Street Partnership. While the music is free for the pedestrians, the band gets paid.

Since its inception, the band has recorded three released albums.

“We’ve been on a recording jag the last few months here, so we’ve recorded enough stuff for two more albums,” Waldo said.

“These guys are the best in the city,” Hawkey said of the Gotham City Band. “I’m honored to be singing with them.”

Dave Paone
Dave Paone covers New York City.