A year after launching his “5pm Porch Concerts” series, Jazz Musician and Educator Roy Nathanson remains committed to enriching his diverse community: He’s teaching kids music and poetry on his porch this spring with hopes of establishing a school in the future.
BK Reader met Nathanson on his now famous porch at exactly 5:00pm on a recent evening. He sat cooly in a chair on the breezy overcast evening: “This is an interesting block, because it’s sort of in between the fancy houses down there and the working-class stuff over there,” Nathanson said.
“So it’s a very mixed culture here on this block” Nathanson said. His home is just between the historic district of Ditmas Park and the busy Newkirk Avenue. It is right there at his home where last year’s “5pm Porch Concerts” series began.
It started with a song. Nathanson was preparing to tour France last year when the pandemic hit. Amid the sirens and despair, Nathanson decided to go out on his balcony and play the sax. “I just had this idea of playing a song every day at 5,” Nathanson told BK Reader. “I just went out and played Amazing Grace.”
Soon, he was joined by his downstairs neighbor Lloyd Miller, a bass player. Then Eric Alabaster, a drummer who lives around the corner. “Before you knew it, we had 7 or 8 musicians.”
Musicians and spectators began to gather from all over the city, and “5pm Porch Concerts” was born. The group played music for 82 days straight beginning on April 2, 2020.
“To have this ritual every day, it was important to us as musicians. And It was important for the neighborhood to have this thing they knew was going on, the consistency of it was really important,” said Miller.
Currently teaching a class on music and poetry at NYU’s Gallatin School, educating is second nature to Nathanson. He taught music for grades 6-12 for more than a decade before moving on to NYU.
It wasn’t long before the concert series shifted its focus to teaching music to kids. They hosted a summer program last year in partnership with the nonprofit Arts & Democracy, teaching music and poetry on Nathanson and some of his neighbor’s porches.
This year, Nathanson is hosting a “Spring Porch School” for middle and high school aged kids. Students will play instruments and write poetry and lyrics to the music. The program will culminate in a performance at Avenue C Plaza in Kensington. He says it’s “a kind of goal” of his to start a more formal music school in the future.
Those with privilege should use their education and talents to enrich their communities, Nathanson said. A native of Flatbush, he spent decades living in the East Village before moving to his current home in 2004. “This is my community, I come from here and I love it and I want to try to contribute to it”
Nathanson’s “Spring Porch School” begins April 24.
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