In the last two years, it has crystallized a new program. Neighbors donated porches. Musician friends and alumni pitched in as teachers, paid through a nonprofit Nathanson helped found called Jazz Passengers Music Projects. Pianist Aidan Scrimgeour, who joined the late-night jam sessions in 2020, has now become a leader of the nascent porch school.
This spring, the group has offered individual lessons on a network of porches throughout the neighborhood. The so-called 5PM Porch Concert Band includes drummers, percussionists, keyboardists, bass, guitar, saxophone, trumpet players, and singers. The students are between the ages of eight and 18. Some also write the songs.
Dozens of students meet once a week with their teachers for individual lessons. Its chords and scales float over the lawn and echo between the stately Victorian houses. Then, the second night of each week, they meet in the backyard of a restaurant called Jalsa on Coney Island Avenue to practice as a band.
Djahlisa Fenelon, 13, an eighth grader at Mark Twain High School, was looking for a way to take singing lessons, but didn’t want to do it on Zoom. The porch lessons gave her the opportunity to practice both his singing and his songwriting skills in person.
“I want to be a famous singer when I grow up,” she said. “I haven’t been writing many songs before being in this band. It helped me with my songwriting part and also with my acting part.”
Rosetta Serrano is 17 years old and goes to the Institute for Collaborative Education in Manhattan, where Nathanson used to teach. She plays bass and has been working with younger students. Porch concerts and lessons have been among “the only things about the pandemic that didn’t make me sad,” she said.
“Obviously it wasn’t easy being a teenager in a pandemic, it wasn’t easy being just anyone in a pandemic,” Serrano said. “So seeing people play together was really amazing.”