In 1961 a young bassist from Detroit, Jimmy Stevenson, and his wife, Sandy, took over the fifth floor. “I used to go to this loft all the time down on Sixth Avenue between 28th and 29th Street and I used to play there. I used to go there every time I had some time, I’d go there to play because there was always good players kind of hanging around there. And then I got an opportunity, after going there pretty regularly for about six months, to move in there. And I jumped at it. As soon as I got the opportunity, I just was ecstatic.”
Stevenson recalls bonding with Smith at the loft while listening to news reports about the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962.
“Sandy was back in Detroit visiting her mother, and this crisis came down and I went downstairs to see Gene and I said, ‘We’re liable to be toast here anytime.’ And Gene says, ‘Yeah, I know. Well, come on in,’ you know, ‘we can talk.’
“Gene was playing the Miles Davis and Gil Evans record Sketches of Spain, and he was furious. He said, ‘You know, the music they’re playing . . . it’s just warmed-over Rodrigo.’ I said, ‘But it is Miles Davis and it is Gil Evans and those guys are awesome.’ He laughed and said, ‘Yeah, well, you ought to hear some real music,’ and he put on a recording of Louis Armstrong from the 1920s.
“It seemed like an easing of the tension. We continued to talk and listen to the news reports. At the time, you’d only get five-minute news reports on the hour.”
Stevenson moved out of the loft building in 1964. He left New York and disappeared into obscurity in the 1970s. It took three years and the serendipitous help of a friend to find Stevenson and his wife making and selling wind chimes on the side of the road in California’s wine country in 2003. “You can’t imagine,” says Stevenson, “somebody calling you up out of the blue and telling you that they’ve got tapes—many, many hours of tapes—of you talking and playing music forty-five years ago. Hearing these tapes is like somebody playing back your memories for you, only these are memories you forgot you had. But these aren’t just memories, this is real!”
Sam Stephenson's memory of Stevenson including a link to his January 2010 obituary here.