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On Ninth Street, a ‘Guru of East Side Soul’

Billy LylesLouie Lazar Billy Lyles poses in front of a mural that depicts him playing the saxophone.

The record vendor who toured the world with a disco star isn’t the only East Villager who’s both a musician and salesman: on Ninth Street, jazzman Billy Lyles and his wife, designer Jane Williams, have owned Katinka, an idiosyncratic store no bigger than a walk-in closet, since 1979.

Mr. Lyles, 69, has performed at clubs like the Bitter End, but neighbors know him best for his impromptu saxophone, keyboard, guitar, and flute performances outside of his shop on Ninth Street, near Second Avenue. There, Mr. Lyles interacts with passers-by from his usual position near a table where scented soap and incense are sold for just a dollar. A mural by Chico featuring his likeness – white beard, attentive eyes, saxophone at his lips – adorns an adjacent brick façade. On warm days, shouts of “Billy!” echo down the tree-lined block, and people wave at him from across the street.

“It’s nice to get said hello to,” said Mr. Lyles, wearing his trademark glasses and old-fashioned flat cap. “To be a nice person, man: they don’t have that going on any more like they used to.” Read more…