Saturday, November 18, 2017
The Real Soloist
Published April 16, 2009

Nathaniel Ayers is the real “soloist” – subject of the upcoming movie “The Soloist.”

Photo by Jason Lewis for Sentinel

Remarkable music  genius discovered on skid row Nathaniel Ayers feels right at home at Sentinel newspaper

The electronic buzzer released the front door to allow the homeless woman into the Sentinel offices on Crenshaw Blvd. recently.
As  Denise Scott made her way to the receptionist desk she appeared antsy with her urgent request.

“I would like to speak with Mr. Bakewell,” she urged. At that precise moment the Sentinel Executive Publisher Danny Bakewell Sr. occurred at her footsteps by accident as he was on his way to a meeting in the conference room.

“I want to know why your newspaper has not written about my friend she asked?”

After a short volley of words back and forth, the publisher was alarmed to discover that the person she was speaking about was none other than the remarkable Nathaniel Ayers, a  58-year old homeless man suffering from schizophrenia whose by chance meeting with Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez spawned a book and soon to be released motion picture starring Jamie Foxx.

On Tuesday April 14, Scott returned accompanied by her friend Ayers and his instruments, which included a violin, a chelo and a trumpet. I would later discover that the piano was much too difficult to bring along.

They both arrived wearing matching camouflage army jackets and sweater caps on a somewhat chilly day and it didn’t take long for Ayers to  find solace in what he loves do more than anything else.

Candid and open,  he first began playing the violin adjusting his strings to reach a desired pitch and then grooving his bow back and forth that would have bewildered even the most novice of listeners as such I was.

He explained his genuine passion not with words, but further demonstration  of what obviously first attracted Mr. Lopez and then DreamWorks to purchase the rights for the movie, ‘The Soloist’ that will star the acclaimed Foxx.

As he played his companion as he would later describe Scott would watch silently.

The case that held the chelo caught my attention with the vast scribbling on it. Bee Tho Ven spelled out  to describe his hero, the name of President Barack Obama, Jehovah and God.

Each of which held significant meaning for man suffering from a mental illness that the World Health organization reports as four of 10 leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries.

Ayers does not take any medication for his illness and while we only spent a short time with him, there are many others days where his documented illness brings out the worse behavior in him.

On this day he was calm, collective in his thoughts, wittingly brilliant in his answers and quite aware  of the circumstances that brought him to where is he is.

Ayers was featured  along with Lopez on a CBS 60 Minute feature that revealed his journey from Cleveland  where he was such an accomplished musician that he earned a scholarship to the prestigious Julliard School in New York.

That was in the early 1970’s after he graduated from high school where he says he played offensive guard on the football team.
But  for Ayers his life became unraveled  when his mother Floria Boone died in 2000.

He became quite emotional when even thinking about the loss of his mother, tears streaming down his face while he slowly gathered the words to describe her void.

“I would run to the baseball diamond and the mop and broom and just sweep. It was like all of a sudden she was gone,” he said.
His sister who established the Nathaniel A. Ayers Foundation in his name to assist individuals with mental illness and provide educational and artistic programs agreed with her bother’s assessment.

“That is about right. It has been really difficult for him since the death of my mother,” said Jennifer Ayers-Moore from her home in Atlanta.

She says that if not for Mr. Lopez she would have never found her brother who has been residing in downtown Los Angeles for the past two baseball seasons as he describes it. 

He says that he pays for his one bedroom dwelling that he described as not larger than the Sentinel’s conference room by doing odd custodial jobs.

However, it was his by chance meeting with Lopez at a park down town where he was playing one of his many instruments that transformed an obscure homeless man into hidden musical treasure.

He calls Scott his soul mate and list OJ Simpson as his favorite football player, Arthur Ashe and Venus Williams as his favorite tennis players, Hank Aaron as his favorite baseball player and Michael Jeffrey Jordan as his favorite basketball player. The Dodgers he says is his favorite baseball team.

After Ayers played the National Anthem on his trumpet he was excited to learn that the Sentinel was treated him to a soul food meal at  Mamma’s Restaurant just down the street.

He ordered a two piece friend chicken lunch with collard greens and rice and gravy and flushed it down with a tall glass of lemonade.

He said that it reminded him of back home.

That far away place in Cleveland where it snowed more than the sun shined.

Now he lives where the sun seems to always shine, but never  brighter than Mr. Nathaniel A. Ayers beams.

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