The quiet, leafy area of Ditmas Park is known better for its Victorian houses than concert venues (in fact, there’s a dearth of them), but it became a musical destination in the city in 2020 thanks in part to the wiry 70-year-old saxophonist Roy Nathanson.
Beginning in April of last year, he played “Amazing Grace” from his second-floor balcony in Ditmas Park every evening at 5 sharp — a soothing change from the constant wail of sirens then. Soon a motley crew of local musicians — including the pianist and composer Albert Marquès — took shape, and they joined him in playing that hopeful hymn for 82 days straight.
Last May, when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, and New Yorkers took to the streets to protest police brutality, Marquès 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, both things had to connect somehow.” That connection took shape as Freedom First, a series of jazz concerts around New York he organized around a cause, raising funds to support Keith LaMar, a death-row inmate in Ohio who is fighting to be exonerated for a crime he says he did not commit.
Last summer, 5 p.m. Porch Concerts pivoted to hosting mostly jazz performances, and began offering outdoor lessons to young musicians in middle and high school in June of 2020. After going mostly dormant over the winter, they started “porch jams” in April; this series, held on Sundays at 5 p.m. on East 17th Street, will resume in mid-August.
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"That Healing Jazz Thing on a Porch in Brooklyn" The New York Times, July 1, 2020
"DJs, musicians delight neighbors with lockdown concerts and dance parties" New York Post, July 1, 2020
"The Music Scene in This Brooklyn Neighborhood Is Here to Stay" The New York Times, July 22, 2021
"On The Streets Where We Live - Music in Ditmas Park" Fox 5 News, November 5, 2021