Edward Jimenez had flown in from Southern California to play his trumpet in midtown Manhattan, and I had just crossed the street from Central Park when our paths crossed.
While out taking photos that summer afternoon, I stopped by neighboring Columbus Circle and spotted “Eddie.” My inner photographer is drawn to capture portraits of musicians, but I rarely, if ever, talked with my subjects. This day was different.
A longtime journalist and writer, I took up photography in part to escape the often necessary solitude that involves only my work desk, MacBook Pro and studio’s four walls. But after years of walking New York’s streets with my Nikon on weekends, I made few attempts at starting conversations. Instead, I took snapshots mostly of inanimate objects, from buildings soaring into the sky and out of earshot to historical figures immortalized and muted in marble and bronze statues.
On this day, though, my mission was to talk with at least some people in the flesh that I caught on camera. If nothing else, I could hand them my business card and offer to share my images. Eddie seemed like a good candidate to get started: a 60-something musician who displayed himself at the base of the city’s best monument to Christopher Columbus, whose marble likeness I, of course, had photographed before.
As I snapped away, Eddie blew and belted out classic jazz tunes by Louis Armstrong and his peers, and between numbers we got to talking. He had actually travelled from San Diego to visit his daughter, who lives and works in Manhattan. As he offered me an abridged history of his youth, he threw out descriptives such as “cat” and “dude” that sealed his jazzman cred.
“I play good music: anything that promotes intellectual, spiritual or physical well being!,” Eddie later wrote in an email after I had dropped some cash and my business card in his yawning trumpet case.
As a youth, Eddie dreamed of playing wide receiver in the National Football League. But certain unnamed circumstances sidetracked him from running that route. He learned to play the trumpet at 99th Street Elementary School in Watts, the Los Angeles neighborhood where he grew up. Later, he performed in orchestras at Gompers Jr. High School and Lynwood High School near Compton. As he grew into adulthood, he eventually laid his trumpet down, only to pick it up again later in life.
When he phoned me from his home a few weeks after our chance meeting, I emailed him some photos I took of him blowing his horn and told him I wanted to write about our encounter. During our digital correspondence, the reporter in me got him to readily fill in some details about his life.
“I've played with international orchestras and choirs from China and around the corner,” he noted about his exploits as a trumpeter.
Eddie also revealed that he had participated in the Watts riots in 1965. He was an impressionable 14-year-old. At Lynwood H.S., he played football and also ran track. As a senior, he racked up several wins in races that qualified him for the Compton high hurdle relays and took third in that meet.
Then he offered me some information that he’s been trying to verify since 1970. That’s when he participated in a statewide speech competition at California State University in L.A. He placed in the humorous interpretation category, otherwise known as stand-up comedy.
“I think the guy that took first was Robin Williams,” Eddie wrote.
After graduating from Lynwood, Eddie accepted a four-year scholarship to play football at California Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, where he majored in history and economics. He earned his undergraduate degree at San Diego State University, and pursued a career as a sales executive, working for such companies as Xerox and Digital Equipment Corp.
“I have interesting stories about [John F.] Kennedy's assassination in [Texas] and interrelation between Watts street kids unknowing involvement,” Eddie wrote in one of his follow-ups. “Makes good reading: fiction bordering reality and the clash between social financial worlds.”
When I set out to take photos that day last summer, I expected to exchange a few words with some of my subjects and perhaps hit on a topic of mutual interest. I not only got Eddie to open up about his life, but we also reconnected again while nearly 2,500 miles apart. Moreover, now that we worked on this piece together, we’ll likely keep in touch. I think it’s safe to say: mission accomplished.