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Diary of a Plague Month

Editor Mac Randall opens our May issue expressing two kinds of nostalgia

Don Byron at the Knitting Factory,
Don Byron at the Knitting Factory, February 1992 (photo: Enid Farber)

Early in March, when I started thinking about what to write for this column, my goal was to express a certain kind of nostalgia. A little more than a week later, the world around me had changed so much that I realized I needed to express two kinds of nostalgia.

The first kind is for an era I narrowly missed: the heyday of the Knitting Factory on New York’s Lower East Side. When that club, which became a synonym for “downtown” music in the late 1980s, moved even further downtown to Tribeca in November ’94, it didn’t close its earlier location right away. The Houston Street address stayed open for several months as the Old Knit, finally shutting in the early summer of ’95. I know this because I was there the last night it was open—my one and only time in the original Knitting Factory. Recently arrived in New York, I’d spent years admiring the recorded work of Knit regulars like John Zorn, Dave Tronzo, Pheeroan akLaff, Sonny Sharrock, and Don Byron (Tuskegee Experiments is still the bomb, y’all). I had to go pay my last respects. Alas, when I walked in, there was little to see besides the fisherman’s-net facsimile hanging from the ceiling, an empty stage, and a couple of folks leaning on the corner of the shabby bar. So much for the wrap party.

Over the next decade-plus, I spent many nights in the new Knitting Factory, and I even played there a few times. But I knew from just that short peek inside the Old Knit that the Leonard Street club wasn’t the same as what had come before. That’s why, as we planned our May “Renegades” issue, which profiles musical risktakers both experienced and rising, it seemed like a no-brainer to honor the original Knit, which Shaun Brady has done splendidly in his oral-history feature.

The second kind of nostalgia is not for what the jazz world had 25 years ago, but for what it had only a few weeks ago. As COVID-19 has spread across the globe; as theaters, clubs, and schools have gone dark; as tours and festivals have been canceled; as our entire community faces an uncertain future, stories and pictures of people packing into small spaces to hear music quickly begin to seem like misty visions of another great lost era. But that needn’t be the case. We print our Festival Guide in this issue as we do every May, knowing much of it may become inaccurate, but also confident that much of it will not, and that sometime soon we will all gather again, socially distanced no longer, to celebrate life and the music we love. 

Sour Note: Our April feature on the Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival incorrectly claimed that the festival took place in 2010 after the Haitian earthquake. We regret the error.

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.