This Brooklyn neighborhood’s music scene is here to stay


One Sunday in July, just off Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn – between the yellow facade of a laundromat and the red awning of a bodega – the sweet notes of a saxophone floated above a crowd of about 150 people. Haitian jazz guitarist Eddy Bourjolly introduced the song “Plainte Paysanne”, and the marching band sang the serenade in the street.

This was a launch event for Open streets, a series of Sunday concerts that will take place until the end of August in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is hosted by 5:00 p.m. Concerts on the porch, one of the few groups that have established themselves in the Ditmas Park neighborhood since the start of the pandemic. Operation Concert, which connects local musicians to paid concerts, began last July. Artmageddon, an art and music festival on the porches and in the gardens, saw its first edition in June.

As take-out cocktails – and (hopefully) outdoor birthdays in freezing January – become a thing of the past, some rituals that developed during the pandemic are here to stay in the city. The burgeoning arts and music scene around Ditmas Park – an area tucked away in Flatbush, below Prospect Park – seems to be one of them.

Robert elstein, an artist and public school teacher who organized Artmageddon, plans to hold its next edition in October. The last time, paintings and sculptures by groups like Flatbush artists and Oye Studios were exhibited in the courtyards and Newkirk Community Garden. The neighborhood has always had artists and musicians among its residents, but because of the pandemic, they suddenly stayed put, Elstein said.

“Our world has moved from all over the world to our local community, no matter where we were,” he said. “And because of the neighborhood spirit and the creativity of the residents of Ditmas Park, we saw what we saw.”

The quiet, leafy neighborhood of Ditmas Park is better known for its Victorian houses than its concert halls (in fact, there is a shortage of them), but it has become a city music destination in 2020 thanks in part to the years. 70. the old saxophonist Roy Nathanson.

Starting in April last year, he performed “Amazing Grace” from his second-story balcony in Ditmas Park every night at 5 p.m. sharp – a calming change from the constant howling of sirens of the time. Soon a motley team of local musicians – including the pianist and composer Albert Marqués – took shape and they joined him to play this hopeful hymn for 82 days in a row.

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

“I was playing for the community, we were doing all of these things,” he said in a video interview in Spain this month. “And I was going to the demonstrations. So in my mind the two things had to connect somehow. This connection took shape as Freedom first, a series of jazz concerts around New York that he organized around a cause, raising funds to support Keith LaMar, a death row inmate in Ohio who is fighting to be cleared of a crime he he says he has did not commit.

Last summer, the 5pm Porch Concerts turned to hosting mostly jazz performances and began offering outdoor classes to young middle and high school musicians in June 2020. After staying mainly dormant during the winter, they started “porch jams” in April; This series, which takes place on Sundays at 5 p.m. on East 17th Street, will resume in mid-August.

Another group, Operation Gig, founded by Aaron Lisman in July 2020, has been bringing live music to Ditmas Park and paying local professional musicians for their work, for a year now. Especially during a pandemic, he said, musicians shouldn’t be expected to play for free.

There is no overhead fee for shows like these, and no booking or venue agent. Each gig costs on average between $ 300 and $ 500 in crowdfunding (think Venmo), according to Lisman’s estimate. The record collected for one performance was around $ 1,000 – more than some of the city’s music clubs pay. At a recent event, they announced a suggested donation of $ 10 per person, $ 20 per family. Many young families participate, as well as older people.

“They won’t go to Manhattan, period, let alone clubs,” Lisman said. “So they’re kind of an untapped market, and it turns out that making music on the porches – which turns out to be really beautiful and special – is a perfect way to tap into that market.”

On the same Sunday in July, folk music and bright could be heard on Buckingham Road, an area lined with beautiful old Victorians. A brigade of strollers was parked on the grass. Through the trees emerged a Japanese-style box covered in bright red stucco, trimmed in forest green and built at the turn of the 20th century. On the porch, a white haired couple held hands. Towards the fence, Amy Bramhall from Bakery Copper Spoon presided over a table of free cupcakes, macaroons and cookies.

Gloria Fischer, the owner for 40 years, listened to the four songwriters in the circle at the Operation Gig event – Scott Stein, Andi Rae Healy, Jeff Litman and Bryan Dunn – from his front porch. Wearing tea-shadow sunglasses with purple frames, Fischer said that in the past year alone, she estimates she’s put on around 50 Operation Gig shows.

“I think it actually gave me an emotional boost,” she said. “Because it was obviously such a cut” during the pandemic.

“When you’re the creative type in New York City, you just get used to having to adapt and have a lot to do at once,” she said. “So it was like, ‘Oh, well, that whole source of income is gone. And we made it happen instead.

At 5 p.m. last summer, Porch Concerts launched an outdoor class program, pairing professional local musicians with children between the ages of 10 and 18. At the Open Streets event, which will make Newkirk Avenue a car-free zone on Sundays until the end of summer, the Multigenerational Playing for the Light Big Band performed, featuring teachers alongside of their students.

Aidan Scrimgeour, a melodica player, said the inspiration for the lessons came from “knowing the number of musicians doing different and interesting things who live in the neighborhood, and the number of children who could have access to what I think this is a really interesting opportunity. . “

Among Scrimgeour’s students is pianist Rhonasha George, 15. At the Open Streets event, she sang a song she had written, “Outside My Window,” her firefighter red braids matching her dress. The song comes from a poem George wrote with the Informal Music School last summer. On Zoom, teachers asked students to visualize what happened in the neighborhood around them during the pandemic.

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


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