The Music Scene in This Brooklyn Neighborhood Is Here to Stay

One Sunday, just off Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn—between the yellow side of a laundromat and the red awning of a bodega—the melodious strains of a saxophone swam over a crowd of about 150. Haitian jazz guitarist Eddie Borzoli performed the song “Complaint Paysanne,” and the band hit the road.

It was a kickoff event for the kick open roads, a series of Sunday concerts that will run through the end of August in the Flatbush area of ​​Brooklyn. It is hosted by Porch Concert at 5 p.m., one of a handful of groups that have taken root in the Ditmas Park neighborhood since the pandemic began. operation gigo, which connects local musicians to paying gigs, debuted last July. calamgidon, an arts and music festival on the porch and in the gardens there, saw its first installment this June.

as cocktails to go While outdoor birthday parties — and (hopefully) outdoor birthday parties in January — have become a thing of the past, some rituals that have evolved during the pandemic are meant to be in the city. The nascent arts and music scene around Ditmas Park – a neighborhood nestled in Flatbush below Prospect Park – appears to be one of them.

robert elsteinArtists and public school teachers, who organize Artmageddon, plan to host its next installment in October. Paintings and sculptures from groups like previous times flatbush artist And Oye Studios were on display in the yard and in Newkirk Community Park. Elstein said the neighborhood has always counted artists and musicians among its residents, but they were suddenly halted because of the pandemic.

“Our world went from all over the world to just our local community, no matter where we are,” he said. “And because of the neighborly spirit and creativity of the residents of Ditmas Park, we saw exactly what we saw.”

The quiet, green area of ​​Ditmas Park is better known for its Victorian homes than concert venues (indeed, there’s a lack of them), but it became a musical destination in the city in 2020, as part of 70 years. Thanks to -old saxophonist Roy Nathanson.

Starting in April last year, He played “Amazing Grace” from his second-floor balcony in Ditmas Park Every evening at 5 o’clock sharp – a pleasant change from the incessant scream of sirens. Soon an inspiring group of local musicians – including pianists and composers Albert Marquess – took shape, and they joined him in playing that hopeful hymn 82 days straight.

Last May, when George Floyd was killed In Minneapolis, and New Yorkers took to the streets to protest police brutality, the Marquess did too.

“I was playing for the community, we were doing all those things,” he said in a video interview from Spain this month. “And I was going to the protests. So in my mind I had to connect the two things in some way or the other.” That relationship took shape. freedom firstHe organized a series of jazz concerts around New York City around a cause, raising funds to support Keith Lamarr, a death row convict in Ohio who is fighting to be acquitted of a crime, He says did not commit.

Last summer, the 5 p.m. Porch Concerts hosted mostly jazz performances, and in June 2020 began offering outdoor lessons to young musicians in middle and high school. After being mostly dormant in the winter, he began “porch jams” in April; Held on Sunday at 5 p.m. East 17th Street, the series will resume in mid-August.

Another group, Operation Gig, founded by Aaron Lissman in July 2020, is bringing live music to Ditmas Park, and paying local professional musicians for their work, now for a full year. Especially during a pandemic, he said, musicians should not be expected to play for free.

There is no overhead for such shows, and there is no booking agent or venue. According to Lisman’s estimates, each concert averages between $300 and $500 in crowdfunding. The record collected for one performance was about $1,000 – more than the salaries of some of the city’s music clubs. At a recent event, he suggested a donation of $10 per person, $20 per family. Many young families are involved, as do older people.

“They’re not going to Manhattan, period, let alone the clubs,” Lisman said. “So they’re kind of an untapped market, and it turns out that doing music on the porch — which turned out to be really beautiful and special — is the perfect way to tap that market.”

On the same Sunday in July, an area could be heard down Buckingham Road with music, folk and bright, beautiful old Victorians. A wandering brigade stood on the grass. Through the trees emerged the bright red plaster-covered box of a house, a Japanese-style, trimmed forest green and built in the early 20th century. At the bottom of the verandah was a white-haired couple holding hands. To the Fence, Amy Bramhall Copper Spoon Bakery Presided over a table of free cupcakes, macarons and cookies.

Gloria Fisher, Homeowner listened to all four for 40 years in-the-round lyricist Scott Stein, Andy Rae Healy, Jeff Littman and Brian Dunn – at the Operation Gig event – from her porch. Sporting teashade sunglasses with purple-hued frames, Fischer said that in the past year, he estimates he’s hosted about 50 Operation gig shows.

“I think it really gave me an emotional lift,” she said. “Because it was clearly such a dent” during the pandemic.

“When you’re a creative type in New York, you just get used to adapting and doing too many things at once,” she said. “So it was like, ‘Oh, well that whole revenue stream is gone.’ And we did that instead.”

Last summer, porch concerts began at 5 p.m. outdoor lesson program, Pairing neighborhood professional musicians with children ages 10 to 18. At the Open Streets event, which will make Newkirk Avenue a car-free zone by the end of summer on Sunday, Multigenerational Playing for the Light Big Band performed, featuring teachers with their students.

Melodica player, Aaron Scrimgor, said that the inspiration for the lessons came from “knowing the amount of musicians living in the neighborhood doing different and interesting things, and the amount of kids that I think is a really good opportunity.” “

Among Scrimjour’s students is pianist Ronsha George, 15. At the Open Streets event, she sang a song she wrote, “Outside My Window,” with her red top of a fire engine matching her outfit. The song comes from a poem George wrote last summer with The Unofficial Music School. During Zoom, teachers asked students to imagine what happened in their immediate vicinity during the pandemic.

For George, that meant writing about an old man outside his window in a summer storm, without a coat and umbrella. But just like in the city, “He was fine. And he was actually stronger and healthier than anything else,” said George. And like the city, he adds, “he knows how to come back.”

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