Horn player Kimber says the key to playing to a Subway crowd is to be able to “tap into people’s mood.”
There’s a beautifully melancholy sound from his soprano saxophone – which at first glance looks and sounds a little like a clarinet – which pervades train and platform alike.
The particular songs he plays are good for demonstrating his technique, but he said the important thing is to try and get a sense of how people are feeling at that moment.
He’s been playing for 25 years and has a routine on the Subway that allows him to do well by doing something he loves.
"I used to play in bands," he says. "This is better."
He plays every day, for about three or four hours, starting usually around lunchtime. But he’s about to change his schedule so he can take more time off at weekends.
“Some days it’s hard work,” he says. “I missed yesterday, and that was the first day for a long time.”
I asked him about his influences, or players that he liked to listen to, and he just says “It depends on how you’re feeling – everyone’s good, it’s just about getting in the right groove.”
And with that, he was off to see Earth Wind and Fire at Madison Square Garden.
I think next week I’ll have to seek out some less noisy stations – even after a week and a half, my voice is starting to strain from trying to sing over the trains.
Also I remember reading once that when Noel Redding, Jimi Hendrix’s bass player, changed his instrument, he ended up developing a muscle on his shoulder because it was a lot heavier than the previous one he’d been using. I’m feeling a little bit like that – my wrists are sore, not so much from the playing, but from carrying the guitar case every day, something I’m not used to.
When I use the little Martin, it’s in a backpack that I put over both my shoulders, but the sound is just better with the Yamaha, so I’ve been schlepping the big guitar case around for all but two of the days so far. And it’s hurting.
Oh well. I went to the station under Rockefeller Center today; there were plenty of passengers around but also plenty of trains, so plenty of noise.
Even so, I played for just over an hour and a half, and I made three dollars. My running total is now $14.69 – and of course the cumulative amount at the end of the project will be handed over to an appropriate charity.
The River – Bruce Springsteen
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
People Look Around – Catie Curtis
The Ties That Bind – Bruce Springsteen
Shattered Cross – Stuart Adamson
100 Miles – Catie Curtis
Look At Miss Ohio – Gillian Welch
Tracks Of My Tears – Smokey Robinson
Drift Away – Dobie Gray
People Get Ready – Curtis Mayfield
Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine – Ry Cooder version
I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty
Rosalita – Bruce Springsteen
Barricades of Heaven – Jackson Browne
When The Stars Go Blue – Ryan Adams
Peaceful World – John Mellencamp
You’re Still Standing There – Steve Earle
For BuskerCam, I played one of my favourite songs, “Shattered Cross” by Stuart Adamson. You get a real sense from this clip just how noisy it is on the platforms, and how tough it can be to sing through. I set the Flip camera in my guitar case but all you end up seeing is the ceiling – one guy came over to give me a dollar after I’d finished playing.
But the best thing of all is it gives me an opportunity to sign off by sharing this footage with you, of Darrell Scott and Paul Brady playing the song on the Transatlantic Sessions.
Here’s how it should sound.