Music in the wild (Upper) West
“Mozart in the Jungle” author Blair Tindall on the new season of the hit show and what she likes most about her old neighborhood
Every New Yorker has a building that makes the heart sing. For classical oboist and “Mozart in the Jungle” author Blair Tindall, it’s the Allendale at 808 West End Avenue, where she spent 21 years living among an eclectic community of classical musicians.
For the uninitiated, “Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Lies and Classical Music” was the book that inspired “Mozart in the Jungle,” the Golden Globe-winning series on Amazon Prime Video. The latter follows Hailey Rutledge, (Lola Kirke) an ambitious young oboist who develops an intricate and utterly addictive relationship with the quixotic conductor Rodrigo De Souza (Gael Garcia Bernal) of the fictional New York Symphony. Viewers can stream season four on February 16.
MITJ is a love letter to New York City, and all the musicians, artist and erstwhile creatives who’ve ever tried and failed and tried to make it here. We caught up with Tindall (who lives primarily in Los Angeles now) about her old digs and the sonically rich Upper West Side.
How did you wind up at the Allendale?
I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts and my piano teacher had given me a reference, and I rented the apartment in 1978. If you walk by, the building is on West End between 99th and 100th, you’ll hear just tons of musicians practicing. I always called it the Ellis Island of classical music. It’s sort of where everybody landed.
“Mozart in the Jungle” really captures the energy and spirit of New York. Can you tell us what parts are filmed on location??
When you see the exterior of Lincoln Center, it’s not Lincoln Center, it’s the Public Theater at Astor Place. The interior shots are at SUNY Purchase, which has a much-used auditorium, great acoustics, no subway noise, no traffic. There’s parking for days. The first time I drove up to the set I thought I was going to have a heart attack. There were maybe 25 trailers outside and just hundreds of people working, it was a bit of a shock. And they have a gazillion extras — actually, they’re always looking for older people, the casting department. They’re looking for people over 80. How often does that happen? And also you have to bring your own clothes, so if you have some kind of society lady gown or something, that’s going to be a big plus.
Besides the Allendale, where else can we see musicians hanging out?
If you get on the subway at 96th Street going downtown between 7:15 and 7:30 in the evening, you’ll see a bunch of people carrying instruments in black clothes. They’re going to Broadway or Carnegie Hall, or Lincoln Center, and it’s kind of a fun meeting point. Even now, I see people I haven’t seen on the subway in 20 years when I’m in town.
When you would make that trek downtown, where did you go before or after your shows?
Before the show, my friend and I often got this one meal that I absolutely loved at The Cottage restaurant at 103rd and Broadway. Steamed chicken and broccoli, and we got peanut sauce on the side.
One my favorite episodes is filmed outside Manhattan, on Rikers Island. Can you tell me more about the inspiration behind it?
I loved the Rikers Island episode. That’s one of my two favorite episodes. I had absolutely no input on that. That was Jason Schwartzman’s [idea] ... he directed it, he’s in it, I think it’s magnificent, and all the people you see onscreen are actual inmates at Rikers Island ... The piece they performed was from Messiaen, and it was written when he was incarcerated [in a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II], and that was quite meaningful. I was just really struck by it. They couldn’t really bring in equipment, so it was all done on handheld cameras and iPhones and such.
I love Hailey’s character arc, and how she starts at the bottom playing in off-off-Broadway shows, running from gig to gig sometimes. You worked on various musicals. What’s it like down in the pit?
It’s a whole routine, just like coming to the office for anybody. It’s not the most glamorous thing down there. It’s a little dusty and dirty, and they don’t really vacuum that often, and there are rat traps with dead rats in them, because it is Manhattan and it’s underground, so what can you do? But I call these people my tribe, and the vast majority of them probably live on the Upper West Side and you see them every day.
A lot has changed since your book came out [12 years ago]. Do you still maintain good relationships with your fellow musicians from back then?
When it first came out, people didn’t understand what I was trying to do. I have a journalism degree that I got from Stanford when I was 40 — so the book was meant to be about the rise of culture in late 20th century America, and I knew nobody was going to read that, but it’s important information that’s actually being used in a lot of college courses now. So I realized that time period exactly paralleled my lifespan, so I alternated chapters of that with memoir ... now I’m an ingénue at 58.
No spoilers, but what can you tell me about the new season?
Well I can’t say too much or they’d have to kill me. Some of it was filmed in Japan, Sapporo and Tokyo. As for the New York part, much of it takes place in this phenomenal apartment complex. It’s actually beautiful — I thought it was the Bradford on 86th Street, but it’s in Harlem. I live at the beach in Los Angeles and I still feel like I’m an Upper West Sider. The majority of my years on this planet have been on 99th Street.
The fourth season of “Mozart in the Jungle” launches February 16 on Amazon Prime.
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