Today Tony Ocean and I met on the street for the first time. He was pushing melodies through his trumpet into one end of the 2nd Street tunnel while watching the cars, bicycles and people go by. Inside the tunnel, the music takes on special airs; it reverberates and mixes with the surrounding ambient noise. Car horns, ventilation system, tire roar, West Side Story. He told me the tunnel “is a great acoustic; it’s a very good place to do something musical.”
Tony summed up his journey to California, starting in Cleveland:
“I think the junior high school system of teachers there had an eye for the future of their students. I was having a lot of problems choosing between athletics and music. Athletics is full of grandeur, leading up to a turn of events… well, my junior high school teacher was a violinist, and I showed interest in piano and string bass, or at least I wanted to be a bass player, so he sent me to a bass player of The Cleveland Orchestra… it was one thing leading naturally to another.
I came to California and discovered the ocean. I changed my name; John Denver, Neil Diamond, Cary Grant, Neil Sedaka, those real catchy names… I go with Ocean, like Billy Ocean. I really can sing some really good songs! Yeah, Tony Ocean: T.O.”
Tony Ocean, a.k.a. Nathaniel Ayers, plays many instruments well: Violin, Cello, Bass, Trumpet and Piano among others. When learning piano as a child, he painted all the keys black “to do things that I normally wouldn’t ever want to do, because there was not a division between the black keys and the white keys.”
After playing one or two more tunes, my hour with Tony was up. I asked to take one more portrait of him and showed him a few snaps; he liked one in particular:
“I like that, I like the teeth! It’s because I’m a Cleveland Indian, I like that a lot.”