Where to hear the best jazz music in Bushwick? Wilson Live is a definite contender.
Founded by internationally revered bassist and composer Omer Avital and construction project manager and cook Yoav Aderet, and later joined by drummer Itay Morchi and pianist Gadi Lehavi, Wilson Live is simultaneously a community gathering and performance space for musicians, recording studio and informal kitchen.
But after Hurricane Ida destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of the space’s equipment, it needs Bushwick’s help.
Both from Israel, Avital and Aderet seem like the oldest of friends, but in reality, they met courtesy of their wives six or seven years ago and immediately connected. The two bought the building at 637 Wilson Ave. in 2016, originally intending for it to serve entirely as a real estate investment. But “[t]he moment we saw it, with the alleyway and everything,” Aderet recalls, “we immediately said, ‘Whoa, this is a jazz club. This is a club.”’
In January of 2018, after some time gathering funds and a year of mostly self-led renovating using leftovers from other construction sites, Avital and Aderet declared Wilson Live ready for action.
Wilson’s blossoming was an organic process and originally all word of mouth. Avital’s friends, students and fellow jazz musicians would come and use the larger “music room” mainly as a practice space at first. Before Hurricane Ida, jam sessions were once a week on Wednesdays (and livestreamed during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic). Many nights, there were two events going on at once. “Over there, there’s jazz; over here, there’s—I don’t know—Latin music going on,” Aderet says. “Dance party over here, and over there, there are people playing. Sometimes we have opera singers. . . . Most of the time, it’s big jam sessions.”
Aderet, who gained his culinary prowess by spending hours in the Haifa market and the kitchen with his Moroccan mother, would cook hummus for everyone. Donations to cover the cost of supplies were occasionally accepted but never expected.
“It’s our place, you know? It’s not a commercial entity,” Avital says. “It’s a high-level house party.”
Aderet doesn’t play an instrument but knows good music when he hears it. “I have to say, there were nights here that I can guarantee that there was no better place, no better music in all New York City, in all the East Coast than what’s happening here,” he opines. “There’s always really topnotch musicians that gather here.” Until the flood, that is.
Hurricane Ida hit Wilson Live hard. On the night of September 1, Avital was rehearsing in the music room and Aderet was in the office. At 9 p.m., he cleared the drains, checked that the sump pump was working, and left. Less than 45 minutes later, Avital called him with dire news. “He said, ‘Yoav, we gone. We out.” I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s everything underwater. It’s devastating. It’s bad. It’s worse than you can imagine.’”
Aderet rushed back to the building, where he saw, as he puts it, “a waterfall, like all the stairs from the backyard was a big waterfall. There was a waterfall coming from the street, because the street was completely covered. And then the water started spilling from the street into the stairs . . . [a]nd simultaneously, there was water from the main sewer line just like a geyser coming up.”
Avital was able to save a few of the musical instruments, but soon the electrical wiring was submerged, rendering more rescue missions far too dangerous.
Almost 42 inches of rain in less than 45 minutes damaged thousands of dollars’ worth of items, including a grand piano, upright piano, two drumsets, recording equipment, a computer, two cameras used to record and livestream, amplifiers, speakers and other costly tools of the trade. Almost everything that was on the floor was ruined.
Avital and Aderet were crestfallen, but they refused to give up the space that had brought so much joy and community. They created a GoFundMe, held a live fundraiser with Avital’s musical group and others at Ornithology (née Bodeguita), and began to start again.
“We’re getting there,” Aderet says. “We put some pictures back on the walls. The piano is here. . . . We’re recreating the place.”
The pair have big plans for Wilson’s future, too — they’ve submitted plans to the Department of Buildings already and hired a zoning lawyer to renew the commercial authorization present when the cellar used to be a bakery in the 1940s. They also have the ear of several potentially interested investors.
“Things take time. But we hope that within the next, I would say, year, we’ll get the things approved,” Aderet says. “Then what we want to do, is really have the place, you know, not a [private studio] anymore—like a real jazz club.”
As of the middle of November, Wilson Live’s GoFundMe stands at about $13,000 out of the requested $45,000. As Avital writes on the GoFundMe page, “Wilson Live was built by the artist, for the artists. We want to keep growing this community of friendship, music, art and love, as these things are crucial to all of us in these times of uncertainty.” The pair hope to have a modified version of the space ready for performances and jam sessions by early December.
“Most of the audience still today is musicians. It’s musicians that heard about the place that want to come and play,” Aderet says. “[They] know [Omer’s] music. It’s always like an inspiration.” While Avital and Aderet enjoy the musical community the space has cultivated, they also recognize the need for a wider audience. Establishing Wilson Live as a commercial entity would bring in new listeners and ultimately help make the space more sustainable.
As I talk to the duo, Avital is dashing from room to room, setting the space up for his son’s bar mitzvah afterparty that coming weekend. He still finds time, however, to sit down at the keyboard and mess around with an earworm of a tune he’d composed recently. Another young regular, Alex, switches between drums — “I just started learning how to play them last month!”— and saxophone (his main instrument) as Avital ecstatically plays, encourages and conducts all at once. Alex has to lift the saxophone up in an ostentatiously awkward position to avoid hitting the drums, provoking laughter but never stopping the jam.
“That’s what it’s like here all the time,” Aderet says, leaning on the piano, power drill in hand, as the improvisation continues.
Featured Image: via the Wilson Live Website.
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