Willy and Haneef: Street Musicians Extraordinaire

Willy and Haneef: Street MusiciansYou may have caught wind of the fact that UC beat Syracuse in the Big East semifinal game; there may even be a reader or two who watched the game on TV. I caught bits and pieces toward the end, but it happened to be taking place during a phase of the day when cabin fever was getting to me. My cure: walking up and down Ludlow Avenue with no particular destination. (I’m good at that, by the way; I think a lot of people are.) Along the way I saw through windows people jumping up and down and cheering whenever a ball went through a net on the end of the court where they wanted it to go through. Even a light winter tends to make us a feel a bit rusty when it comes to revisiting the places we visit much more frequently when the weather is warm, and as I walked up Ludlow I wondered if I’d end up feeling like George Bailey did when his guardian angel takes him on a tour of Pottersville.   

Almost immediately, though, I ran into an old friend, someone I’ve seen on Ludlow Avenue for over ten years. Not too many street musicians make it out on in 39 degree weather, but Willy did, along with his son Haneef, out in front of Graeter’s. I’ve seen Willy play percussion on drum sets that were a mixture of pre-existing instruments mixed with handmade thingy-dingies that only Willy could make; the combination of the two looked like modern art. Walking up and down Ludlow Avenue, you could hear amazing polyrhythms coming from his exotic-looking instruments.  Tonight he was restricted to one conga, and for him that was all that was needed to lay down some rhythms that fit nicely underneath the fine flute playing of his son Haneef, who is talented beyond his years.

Although I don’t know how old Haneef is, what I can say that I’ve seldom heard musicians his age who can play like he does. He doesn’t only play the right notes; he has a feel for the music, he’s improvising, and every time I hear him he’s matured. It’s super nice to see a father and son playing such creative and uplifting music together on a Friday night on the main drag.

Willy, by the way, has an impressive history as a jazz performer, and the youtube clip below includes a performance where one of his bands plays compositions by the Art Ensemble of Chicago:


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