Volume 79, Number 4 | July 1 - 7, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Obituary

Jeff Winfield, The Left Banke guitarist, is dead at 60

By Rick Hill

Jeff Winfield, a former guitarist of The Left Banke, died June 13 at age 60 at St. Vincent’s Hospital. His death followed his admission Feb. 25 for an emergency hernia operation with complications of diabetes. His condition worsened with pneumonia.

Though making a recovery, and sitting up in his chair reading the newspaper Friday night June 12, by morning he was unresponsive. He had been preparing for a move to a nursing home.

Local oldies radio stations, hearing of Winfield’s passing, played “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina” in tribute.

His mother, Marion Winfield, was by his hospital bed daily for more than 100 days. In addition to his mother, he also leaves a brother, Michael, and sister-in-law, Anne, along with his ex-wife, Barbara, with whom he remained friendly. He also leaves many friends, acquaintances, fans and fellow lovers of a more melodious rock and roll of the ’60s.

Born Jeffrey Alan Winfield on Nov. 1, 1948, in Queens, he dropped out of James Monroe High School in the 10th grade to join the band Peter and the Wolves, and then replaced Warren David in the newly formed The Left Banke, only to be replaced himself after a couple years by Rick Brand.

The band, with Mike Brown and his father Harry Lookofsky’s complex compositions and instrumentation, was compared with the Beatles and dubbed “baroque rock” and “Bach rock.” Mike Brown’s friend Clift Arden insists they really had more of the feel of a British band of the times.

Winfield went on to work for the post office for six years in San Francisco, a city and period he fondly recalled. When his former father-in-law suggested he follow in his profession and become a film projectionist, Winfield heeded the call and went to a union-run projectionist school on Long Island and joined the projectionists’ union in the city.

The film director Sidney Lumet told Charlie Rose in an interview a few years ago that cinema projection booths as we know them would be gone in two to three years with their 2-inch-wide unbreakable Mylar film and giant and complex projectors in favor of DVD projection. Already the Angelika has projected films using DVD’s.

Last year Winfield retired after 33 years, having worked, as he said, at every cinema in Manhattan and some outer boroughs, including the now-defunct 8th Street Playhouse, across the street from his home, for 29 years. He lived in a second-floor, rent-regulated studio in the rear of a walk-up building with little light from the windows. Fellow tenant Sharon Woolums recalled how Winfield proudly planted a garden in the tiny, 15-foot-by-3-foot patch of dirt by the bikes and trash cans in the building’s courtyard.

Winfield also sold books, records, CD’s and cassette tapes on W. Fourth St. by New York University, and jammed with the more musical of his fellow street book vendors, including the late Tony Martinec, a Czech in love with improvisation. Winfield enjoyed jamming at the short-lived Thompson St. bookshop of guitarist Ray Galindo, a serious Beatles fan. Joining in was ace guitarist Tommy Ryan of Thompson St., a realtor and apartment clean-out specialist.

Winfield had lots of friends in the Village, including book vendor and Vietnam vet Jim McBride and Alex Sisti of the wild gray hair who plays steel guitar in and above the subway entrance by Sixth Ave. and Washington Place.

Curt Bruce, photojournalist and author of eight books, was a friend. Winfield, an avid reader of nonfiction and borrower of books and videos from the Jefferson Market Public Library, enjoyed listening to Bruce’s tales.

Scott Samuels, Washington Square Park guitar virtuoso and jamming king, on hearing of Winfield’s death, launched into “Walk Away Renee.”

Peter Lewy, a street musician who plays in Soho and beneath the arch in the square recalled, en route to Italy to perform, how he loved “Walk Away Renee” and would play it on the cello.

Keshav, owner and founder of the world-class Keshav Musical Instruments, specializing in sitars and harmoniums, on E. Fourth St. off the Bowery, recalled Winfield from earlier decades since they shared music, as well as both being projectionists. Winfield said Keshav got him the gig at the Angelika, where Winfield worked while holding down a similar gig at BAM. Keshav recalled Winfield as “a really sweet guy.”

Clift Arden, bass player with many bands over the years and manager of Washington Square Wines and Liquors on LaGuardia Place, was sad to hear of Winfield’s passing. He held forth at length about the band and their music based on his long friendship with principal member Mike Brown from Arden’s days as N.Y.U. student government social chairman, when he hired Brown and one of Brown’s later bands, Stories, to perform, he recalled.

Reading Googled information on The Left Banke, Arden would note, “Well, that’s not entirely correct,” and then add some interesting tidbit of band gossip. He strongly objected to Rolling Stones’ ranking of “Walk Away Renee” as number 220 of the 500 greatest rock and roll songs, claiming, “It’s a much better song than that.”

In addition to his skill as a musician, Winfield was an expert projectionist: quick and precise. He could put a film together, fast and under pressure, with all the previews and ads, do splicing and especially handle crises with aplomb.

Before Angelika abandoned the use of union projectionists, it was training the concession kids to do projection. But in emergencies, Winfield was summoned to deal with problems, like dropped reels or projector breakdowns. Once, Winfield recalled, they had to enter the projection booth through the tiny projection window.

Winfield would dart about in the bowels of the Angelika, next to the rumbling subway line, down halls, up Escheresque staircases and ladders. Throughout his film career he saw few movies completely from the soundproof booth where he had other duties. But he’d take busman’s holidays and enjoy a film with a stop first at the concession counter, where he’d get a soda and popcorn from Barhet, the popular and luminous Eritrean with her warmhearted and thousand-kilowatt smile.

Lifelong, Winfield met depression with self-medication, including nicotine, sugar and a contraband tempting to rock musicians of his era and later. But throughout he maintained his generosity, curmudgeonly wit, good nature and astute insight.

Winfield used to recall how a lesser-known Jimi Hendrix of the Electric Lady Studios, also opposite his Eighth St. apartment, picked up Winfield’s right-handed guitar and played it better upside down and left-handed than others had played it right side up.

In recent years Winfield had abandoned his dream of publishing and performing his own hundreds of lovely compositions in favor of becoming a producer of others’ music. He enjoyed, as a favor, walking other people’s dogs, like a friend’s Chihuahua and the pit bull of a fellow musician, Patrick, a former Angelika manager-projectionist, now tattoo artist.

Space forbids exploring other links to the band, like flamenco guitar, Paducah and St. Louis, Arturo Toscanini, violin, Sarah Vaughn, Puerto Rico, Tony Sansone and, of course, Renee Fladen-Kamm, nee Renee Fladen, who inspired at least three famous songs to Pattie Boyd’s two.

Winfield’s friends and fellow tenants recalled how he would get them into the Angelika on comp tickets, sometimes leading conga lines of a dozen grateful friends down the steps to see a movie — a projectionist’s prerogative.

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