Music has always been James Smith’s passion — a way of life.
For more than 40 years, he’s played the trumpet in clubs, in bands, on tour, even on Broadway. The pandemic brought all of that to a halt.
“It’s just numbing, just numbed everything. It just stopped, not only for me, for everybody music-wise, “ said Smith.
These days, Smith’s performances are rehearsals in his Fort Greene apartment, while he waits for the phone to ring.
“If somebody call you, you don’t want to turn the call down because you’re not ready,” Smith explained.
He admits, though, he's struggling to get by. He gets $298 a week in state unemployment benefits, and manages to land a gig now and then doing studio work, remotely — not nearly enough to pay his bills and the rent.
“I have to call everybody, let them know I need some help. I need some flexibility. They have to flex with me and so far everybody has been good,“ said Smith.
Smith now needs help putting food on the table. This week he was one of hundreds of people who waited hours for a free turkey and groceries from Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens.
“It’s bittersweet,” Smith said. “It’s doesn’t feel good. But it feels good to know that it’s here, that it’s available. That kind of thing, you know what I mean?”
After waiting more than three hours, Smith finally got his turkey and about a week’s worth of groceries.
“It feels good. It feels really good and I’m sending the vibe back out there,“ said Smith.
Smith added that he’d rather be working than standing in line for food, and that he's annoyed that politicians in Washington can't agree on new federal benefits for people out of work because of the pandemic. But his hardship hasn’t diminished his hope that things will get better soon.
“Always. Even when things aren’t good, I’m hopeful.”
Until then, he will keep practicing, waiting for the day he and the city can bounce back.
“New York, New York so nice they named this bad boy twice. New York is resilient. New York is strong,“ said Smith.