BY NOAH AUGUSTIN | You’d think a lanky, dread-headed Black man playing the sax on the New York subway is either a homeless drifter or other street dweller. Stanford “Phước Phát” Reid is the exception. He says he does his train performances “because a bear, for example, needs to go to water to catch his salmon. So it’s just me going to the river.”
On the subway, Reid, 34, promotes his albums and tracks out on Spotify of jazz saxophone over hip-hop beats, rhymes and vocals, alongside his current concert series at Nublu jazz club, at 151 Avenue C, with a violinist and two singers.
Reid, way before they called him Phước Phát, spent his early years in Baltimore. Music was introduced to him by his grandmother, a gospel-singing pastor. At 5 years old he was playing the piano and the drums. By middle school he had moved to Atlanta, where even without the guidance of his grandmother, he taught himself to play the saxophone, through which he eventually got into jazz.
By 2012 Reid had moved to Jersey City, then New York and was hustling his way into the jazz world, hosting and playing gigs. At some point he got into hip-hop and put the two genres together. His idols in this style that’s being called trap-house-jazz, are French musician FKJ and Jamaican-American Masego, both saxophonists.
“I’d go up to play gigs in places like the Bronx, and I didn’t think they would like it,” Reid says. “I didn’t think my stuff would be hip-hop enough for them. Everybody vibed to my music, though.”
After playing a gig once, a friend invited him to perform at a festival in Vietnam. Reid was up for it. One thing led to another and he was living in Hanoi, where he learned how to produce and make his own tracks.
There he was given the name Phước, meaning “lucky,” and Phát, or “Buddha,” was stuck to the end. He was now Stanford “Lucky Buddha” Reid. The people there loved his stuff even more. According to him, Vietnam is the best place for people who make “weird music and strange art” — you’re bound to find an audience.
After a year and a half, he felt that his music was good enough for him to head back to New York and see what he could do. At first he tried holding down a job, but after a month of delivering Amazon packages, he decided it was time to fully commit and plunge back in. That’s how he started playing on the subways.
He went from hosting block parties and playing in hotels, to by 2016 releasing his first album, “State of the Arts,” followed by a second in 2019 and two more in 2021.
“I was jamming at Nublu one night and wanted to know who booked the place,” he recalls. “So, I asked the doorman and he said it was the owner. That was a surprise. So, I asked who’s the owner? He said Ilhan Ersahin, I got his contact and was booked for a night’s performance.”
Reid’s first night was so-so at Nublu, a 20-year-old East Village club with an in-house record label. But the venue’s founder Ersahin liked him and gave him a second chance. Stanford thinks it might have been because they’re both sax players.
“The second night, we filled the club to capacity.” Reid says.
And that’s how he got his concert series going, with one performance each month since 2022.
He has big plans for the future, though. He’s moving back to Vietnam with his family because he wants his 13-year-old daughter and unborn son to be raised around nature. Once there, he plans to perform and produce all around the country and the region, including Indonesia, Thailand, Australia and more.
For now, despite having a steady gig, he continues to play on the subway, feeling it’s served him well. On one of the more than 200 days he’s spent working underground, he got on a No. 7 train playing the sax, with his friend handing out his fliers. I got up from my seat to shake Reid’s hand and tell him he was about to be in the newspaper.
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