Sunday, July 06, 2014

Some Smooth Fingers - Sanctuary At Ground Zero - In Loving Memory of Bob McCrone

Photographs by James Wheeldon, '
and (inset) Leo Sorel


“Some folks like to get away;
Take a holiday from the neighborhood”

Bob McCrone took his place at the keyboard as he did several days each week since tragedy had visited the neighborhood surrounding St. Paul’s Chapel at Trinity Church.  Along with a handful of other volunteer musicians, Bob felt drawn to this place in order to provide a sanctuary of sound for the rescue workers toiling next door among the rubble and ruins of the World Trade Center.  The workers came into the Chapel weighed down with physical fatigue, staggered with unimaginable grief for their colleagues whose remains they were attempting to recover, and carrying heavy souls wracked with questions and anguish.  St. Paul’s had become a sanctuary – a place to rest for a few minutes, to grab a cup of coffee, to have their backs rubbed and feet massaged by volunteers and to allow their spirits to be bathed in the gentle waves of sound that came from Bob and his brother and sister musicians.

On this day, as Bob began to play Billy Joel’s iconic “New York State of Mind,” his eyes were drawn to someone who caught his attention as he took his place in the back pew.  He was an imposing figure – an African American gentleman of a certain age with a stern look.  He seemed to be listening intently, and Bob wondered if the look on the man’s face was an indication that he did not like what he was hearing.

“But I know what I'm needing
And I don't want to waste more time
I'm in a New York state of mind”

Bob labored on, playing a song that had come to mean so much to him and others who call New York home. When he looked up from the piano keys, he noticed that the man – his presumptive music critic – had moved a few pews closer.  He was still listening intently, and did not look pleased.  Bob wondered what he may be doing wrong, but played on.

It was so easy living day by day
Out of touch with the rhythm and blues
But now I need a little give and take”



Bob mused to himself, “I wish I could know what he is thinking,” 

He soldiered on, playing the last verse and chorus. 

“It comes down to reality
And it's fine with me 'cause I've let it slide
Don't care if it's Chinatown or on Riverside

I don't have any reasons
I've left them all behind
I'm in a New York state of mind

I'm just taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line
'Cause I'm in a New York state of mind”


As he looked up from the keyboard, he was shocked to see that the man had moved closer still, and was sitting as close as he could get to where Bob was perched on the piano bench.  Breaking the silence, the man spoke to Bob:

“Boy, you sure have some smooth fingers.”\

Bob recently left us.  In his last days of being able to talk with friends, he loved to recount this story.  “Smooth-fingered” Bob McCrone was one of the most humble men who ever walked the earth or tickled the ivories.  He always deflected praise to others and away from himself.  But when he told the story of the mysterious critic who praised his “smooth fingers,” he did so with a hint of a gleam in his eye.  Bob was put on this earth to provide pleasure and sanctuary to others through his music.  Being told that he had “smooth fingers” was tangible evidence to him that he was fulfilling his mission.  He played the piano with the same gentle grace with which he lived his life.  Those of us who knew and loved him have had our path through life made more gentle and smooth by Bob’s “smooth fingers.”  His notes of graciousness will ever reverberate in our souls.

Some smooth fingers!

Play on, Bob!

In living memory of Bob McCrone, by Al Chase

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