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My mentors: Nick Moy

September 18th, 2009

   Nick Moy, New York City, circa 1975
Nick Moy

To call such a buddy a “mentor” might seem an overstatement (he’ll probably find it silly), but it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be in the career I have without Nick Moy.

The son of two pharmacists, I entered school planning on a career as a chemist. Six weeks in I turned to my lab partner and said, “I like the Beatles more than this.” And a lifetime obsession was over, synthesized into a new one. Marching over to the college radio station, I volunteered and began indulging in media overload. Though my tastes veered towards pop, rock, and soul, the station specialized in classical, folk, news, and jazz. It couldn’t be helped, my knowledge instantly exploded.

Nick, his wife Sherry Wolf, and I have been great friends since we met at WKCR-FM in 1969. When Nick and I became roommates four years later, our conversations ranged from politics to music, and though he was the station’s best announcer and classical DJ, his interests exceeded expansive, with a deep grasp of mainstream jazz, R&B and funk, and a solid understanding and attraction to the avant-garde.

More conservative in life approach than me (understatement; I was an undisciplined jumble of nerve endings shooting off in every direction at once) Nick was always open to new ideas, with non-judgmental encouragement to the dumbest thoughts, and an eager companion to almost anything I would cook up. By 1973, we were rooming together in Morningside Heights, where I was running my half of a record company out of our apartment and the college radio studio. Nick had a real job in the public policy world, working for weasel-to-be Dick Morris, making $5000 a year. I was barely earning a dollar, picking up day work here and there while I tried to make the record company a success, and recording anyone and anything, mainly new jazz musicians, usually for no fee.

Most roommates, even friends, would have thrown me out. But, Nick picked up the rent when I didn’t have it (pretty often), bought the groceries and cooked them up (not a horrible burden; I think I was only eating one meal a day then). My temporary quid pro quo was that every once in a while I’d get us some free passes to a club or a record company showcase (we saw everyone from Tom Waits to Charlie Rich to Cecil Taylor.) I think my credits helped him get the Grammy discount for piles of new LPs every month, which enriched us both. From disco to Bach, our apartment was the required stop for our friends to check out the new culture. (One day, percussionist Andrew Cyrille came by for me to record his African drums for his first album. Luckily, we weren’t evicted.)

For five years, Nick Moy was right there for me. Smart as a whip, he prodded my thinking further than any place it had ever been. Funny and dry, he rarely was without a quip when it was needed. Patient and supportive past measure, he was virtually my patron, giving me the room I needed to develop my skills, insights, and fortitude, the space necessary to make my way in a world that I wasn’t sure really existed.

There’s a straight line from my life with Nick right through to cartoons and the internet. Over the years, we tried to keep track, and eventually (very eventually) I paid Nick back the money he laid out for me. But, just the money, the other stuff was beyond value.

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