It was one of those idyllic spring mornings in Manhattan’s East Village. I was sitting in Tompkins Square Park with my friend, the great composer, improviser, and gourmet John Zorn. Besides being a certified artistic and musical genius (he won the MacArthur grant in 2006), John is a serious cook and food aficionado. HE KNOWS HIS SHIT! After being an unabashed fan of John’s for well over 30 years, I had the great fortune to cook for him some years earlier, and we became fast friends. I was in Manhattan for a brief vacation, just an opportunity to hang with some friends, check out the arts scene, and eat some different food. John and I were about to embark on a daylong tour of John’s favorite “hidden food treasures” of his beloved city (more on this another time, but it was one of the all-time best food hangs ever!).
Anyway, back to Tomkins Square Park. I hadn’t been in the park since the late 80’s, and it had changed significantly, with parents walking strollers and kids playing all over the place. People were calm, relaxed, and enjoying the beautiful park. This was a far cry from the last time I was here in the late 80’s. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the park was a place to do business and vacate as quickly as you entered!
I was talking to John about plans to leave my previous gig, a move he and another friend of ours, Mike Patton, had been pushing me to make for several years. I was discussing my desire to create a space for myself and my collaborators, and friends that allowed freedom of creative expression and flexibility with multiple ways for guests to interact with food and the arts, and more specifically music. With his usual exuberance, John busted out with “I have the name!” I said, “Ok, what is it?” He said “DUENDE!” I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those experiences when the entire universe lines up, the curtain gets pulled back for just a moment, and you get to see what’s really going on, but this was one of those times. I was blown away, of course this was the perfect name!!
This is a word/concept that has been with me since I was a kid. My father, who was of Spanish Basque origin, used this word to describe people and experiences with certain other-worldly qualities. Later in life, I read Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1933 lecture titled “Play and Theory of the Duende,” and it became a sort of raison d’ etre for me from that point forward, but I never connected it to my project. Thanks to Zorn, I now had the name and animating spirit for my work going forward.
Love and respect to John Zorn, and much gratitude to Mike Patton for the push!!