Live performance has been largely snuffed out during the pandemic, but some musicians around the city have managed to find new ways to keep music in the air, spreading joy while showcasing their talents in city parks, streets and stoops. In Prospect Heights — on Park Place, between Vanderbilt and Underhill — a neighborhood scene has sprung up delivering a vibe that's a bit more Big Easy than Big Apple. For the last three weekends, a 5-piece brass band has been treating the locals there to a loud, lively and funky set of music.
The twentysomethings — Nat Ranson (tuba), Juan Sanchez (drums), Jesse Klirsfeld (trumpet), Jaedon Alvira and Rich Bomzer (sax) — call themselves the Stoop Kidz Brass Band (a nod to a “Hey, Arnold!” character), and initially got together about a month ago to rehearse on one of the very rare front porches in the neighborhood, with no plans to keep things going.
Ranson, the band’s tuba player, grew up in the home and thought the front porch of his mom’s place would offer the newly formed band a good location to safely practice outside before taking the real show to Prospect Park, where they were originally planning to play their first official show together.
“I used to play music almost every day, playing shows," Ranson told Gothamist. "I haven’t really done very much since March so this felt like a great opportunity to play some music in a way that felt pretty safe.”
The experience of playing to this otherwise quiet residential neighborhood was so positive that they quickly realized the porch offered them a unique opportunity to stand out.
“There are so many bands playing in the park right now... it was really lucky that we stumbled onto this great opportunity to share music with a whole other audience” says drummer Juan Sanchez.
“There’s been this energy between the band and the audience in every show that we hadn’t felt in so long," he added, noting that he wasn't expecting they would get a loyal audience, nevermind such an enthusiastic one. "Live music just has this quality — it’s something beyond words. We’re really happy to connect with people.”
Ranson recalled that “the first moments of playing even just a few notes and getting any kind of response was just so cathartic and euphoric — a wave of joy just washed over me that I hadn’t felt since March. It was great to feel that joy of playing again.”
The neighborhood seems receptive to the new sounds. Neighbor Jill Frazier, who has known Nat since he was a baby, told us she's been listening to him rehearse for years, and appreciates having a professional performance right outside of her front door during the pandemic.
"It’s been hard for the neighborhood. We’ve actually lost quite a few people [to COVID-19] right on this block and on the adjacent blocks early on," Frazier said. "The fact that we can’t go to the Village Vanguard, we can’t go to jazz spots, people have been feeling the pain of missing this."
She now happily offers her stoop for neighbors to gather and watch the band from across the street, masked up and cheering them on. The neighborhood even goes so far as to coordinate moving larger vehicles away from the home, to give people clear view of the band from across the street.
“Everyone’s been super into it,” Ranson said, “it’s been a really good response, no noise complaints. One woman walked up to us and we thought she was going to ask us to not play too late, and she just wanted to ask what time we were starting because she didn’t want to miss it.”
In the midst of a crisis that has forced us apart, the city is still full of little moments like this where people come together to make music, to dance and remember what it was like before the world changed.
"You have to encourage it," said another neighbor, Baba Guhan. “It’s New Orleans in Brooklyn."
Stoop Kidz Brass Band plans to play every Saturday evening (and sometimes Friday), weather permitting. You can look for updates on their newly formed @stoopkidzbrassband instagram.