Editor’s Note: This is a special edition of our “Why The West Side” series published to coincide with a concert Saturday night.


By Eileen Katz

Bill Zukof is a countertenor who has performed with many acclaimed groups as a soloist including the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys and Musica Sacra of New York as well as performing the Bach Magnificat under the direction of Leonard Bernstein at the Vatican in Rome. His operatic appearances include roles with the Washington Opera and the University of California at Berkeley. He is a founding member and currently the executive producer for Western Wind’s recordings.

Western Wind is an Upper West Side based ensemble that, for 47 years, has devoted itself to the special beauty and variety of a cappella music. I was able to chat with Bill about all things UWS between rehearsals for their upcoming event. You can catch their next performance Saturday, March 12th at 8 p.m. at Merkin Hall where you might get the chance to pull Bill aside and convince him that choosing the herring in cream sauce for his desert island might not be the best choice, given the heat.

Why the West side, Bill?

I was born in 10025 and have lived here pretty much ever since. I lived away at various times…the longest time away was the 7 years I spent on a farm in southern Connecticut. You know, it was the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s and it was the whole back to the earth movement and my girlfriend at the time had a beautiful old farmhouse there so it was a great opportunity. I did gardening and bird watching, which I loved, but my work was always here and it became just too much time traveling back and forth. So I came back to this neighborhood, now it was about 1975, because it’s what I knew and there were big apartments available that you could rent for $650 a month! I just like the neighborhood.

How did Western Wind get lucky enough to have office/rehearsal space at the Church of Saint Paul and Saint Andrew?

For years I’d walk past this church and admire the architecture — it’s Spanish Renaissance, which is unique in this city — and think: “God, it would be so nice to be in this building.” So when we needed a new space, I made 2 warm up calls that I struck out with and the third time I got the Pastor, who also happened to be an amateur tenor, and was thrilled at the thought of a musical not-for-profit moving in. And we’ve been here ever since and appreciate it every day! There’s a Spanish pre-school here, a synagogue. A real cross roads.

What’s the best part of living up here?

Principally, it’s the parks! You’ve got Central Park and Riverside and now we have Morningside! When I grew up on 105th Street between Central Park and Manhattan, Morningside Park was a no-man’s land. It was dominated by gangs. But now it’s a gorgeous park! It’s an Olmsted Park. The parks are definitely a big factor of why living up here is so great.

Which leads me to my next question which is in the vein of “Boxers or Briefs” would you choose Riverside or Central Park?…but you’ve thrown a ringer in there now with Morningside…which would you choose?

Well, Riverside is closest to where we live and we have a dog (a wire haired fox terrier named Macabee – Mac for short) and we walk him there so Riverside…but the northern part of Central Park is my favorite actually. And the waterfall at Morningside. It’s really cool.

Where are some of your favorite places to go?

One of my most favorites is the Museum of Natural History. So many favorite restaurants. Mezzogiorno, which is across the street from where I’m living, is a nice addition to the neighborhood. I also like Malaysia Grill on 104th St. It used to be on 87th. They have some really interesting dishes. The only place that I know of around here that has this dish called nasi lemak. And Symphony Space of course!

Nasi Lemak?

It’s rice with things around it. No really, fermented little fishes, really delicious. A mixed plate of things.

Are there any downsides you’ve found about this neighborhood?

No! I think in terms of living in the city it couldn’t be more convenient. Within just 3 or 4 blocks of where I live is just about everything. The best bagels, Absolute Bagels, and The Westside Market, the farmer’s market on 114th St. I’m a devotee of it. But there are too many drugstores and banks.

Describe the typical Upper West Sider.

I think, in general, especially since what’s happened with real estate pricing and housing, they’re very well-educated, arty people or involved in publishing, the music world or theater. It seems that everybody we meet in the elevator or on the street is investing in or producing something on or off Broadway! Or writing a film treatment.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen over the years?

A greater degree of affluence and less diversity. And you really can’t let your kids just go out and play. When I grew up on 105th Street, I played on the street with a group of kids, unsupervised with a community of kids. And that just does not exist. I have a 7-year-old son and now it’s all play dates. And I feel bad about that. You can’t just run out on to the street and play ball. You see some remnants on the playgrounds. When my son was younger, I would take him up to Riverbank State Park where a lot of Dominican kids would be playing because some of them came from large families where the older kids would supervise the younger kids, especially the girls, and they would just invite him in to play. Something that didn’t happen as readily further down.

If there was going to be a street named after you in the neighborhood which would it be?

Duke Ellington already has 106th Street so I’d take 105th Street because it’s where I grew up.

If you were stuck on a desert island and could only bring one thing from Zabar’s what would it be?

Now I know most people would say the rugelach, but I would say the pickled herring in cream sauce!

And when “Bill Zukof Day” is declared on the Upper West Side, how would you like people to celebrate it?

A big street fair with lots of good food, food carts and good music! Western Wind would perform but not just us. A nice eclectic mix of local musicians.

ART, COLUMNS, NEWS | 8 comments | permalink
    1. Mark says:

      Old school Upper West Side right here.

    2. Andrew says:

      “I was born in 10025”

      Bill, was that B.C or A.D.? Lots of time travelers on the Upper West Side so it can be hard to tell.

      Anywhoo, have a great concert!!!

    3. manhattan mark says:

      BILL, It’s good to know someone else grew up on 105th st.
      and still lives there,just curious , what schools did you attend
      grade, JHS, and HS.

    4. lynn says:

      I’m pretty sure that’s a zip code and not a year, lol.

    5. 21D says:

      Very smart, lynn. I was sure it was a typo 🙂

    6. Derek says:

      Fascinating. Another great window into the UWS. Keep it coming!

    7. Andrew says:

      Pretty sure!?!

    8. Howard Freeman says:

      Pieces like this one make WSR the unique and priceless blog it is.