faint sounds of a saxophone rise from the entrance
of the 59th Street subway station. As one walks down the stairs
toward the platform, the roar of taxis and buses subsides, and the
saxophone gains intensity. Inside, commuters gather to listen to
Ashley Paul, the petite woman who sways back and forth as she runs
her fingers up and down the instrument. One fan even stops to take
gallery of subway performers.
has been playing her saxophone along the Broadway local subway line
since she moved to New York five months ago. She only plays about
four hours a day, splitting her time between several stops.
Paul is one of hundreds of artists in the city who have transformed
the subway platform into their stage and turned the commuters into
their audience. For the price of a subway token, anyone gets a free
concert, whether they want it or not.
Paul, who attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, has been
playing the saxophone for 13 years. Her subway performances usually
last about two hours because, she said, that's how long she can
usually go before her stomach starts to growl or she has to use
"It's how I practice and how I pay my rent," she said.
"When I'm not playing a gig, I do this."
At the Times Square station, a spot many street musicians vie for,
William Ruiz, 35, can be found playing the log drum - a Puerto Rican
instrument made of a hollowed-out tree log. Ruiz, who performs everything
from free jazz to West African music, prefers the way his music
sounds in the subway's tunnels.
"The acoustics here in the subway is much better than up there
in open air," Ruiz said. "The tones are richer. And I
do not need to bring ... an amplifier nor a PA system here in the
He said he does it to make people's ride a little easier.
"People hate the platform. So I give them relaxing music that
will take their minds off the platform. Give them something to feel
good about," he said. "The music that will work here on
the platform are those that give positive vibes."
In days of single-digit temperatures and slushy sidewalks, warmth
tops the artists' list when considering a performance spot.
Paul, who wears black gloves with the fingertips cut off, admits
she chose the Columbus Circle location because of its temperature.
"It's pretty warm here," she said.
Ruiz plays the log drum on the Times Square platform.
nickels and dimes that get thrown the performers' way make up for
the chilly air in the stations and the constant interruptions from
passing trains. Paul said she makes about $30 an hour, not including
the money she makes from her CDs, which she sells for $5 out of
her saxophone case.
But not everyone brings in as much as Paul. Larry Wilson, who plays
the electric bass guitar along the N/W/R line has seen days when
he barely covered the cost of his MetroCard.
"If the money's bad ...," said Wilson, who has played
in jazz and R&B bands in New York. "I cut my losses."
article: The City's Song