In an effort to highlight some of the neighborhood’s many talented and diverse musicians, here is the first in a series of artist profiles.
Bryan Vargas, a native Brooklynite, teaches music at St. Joseph's College and has a band called Bryan Vargas & Ya Esta, which plays what he describes as “funky latin jazz.” Bryan’s music, which is fresh and rhythmically focused, has been praised by NY Newsday and The New Yorker.
How long have you lived in the ‘hood? I've lived in my current Ft. Greene apartment for 6 1/2 years, moved in Oct. 2002. I also lived just around the corner from 98-99. The interim time was spent hopping between Williamsburg, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Queens. I spent my early childhood in South Williamsburg, and a large part of my life was spent accompanying my Mom & Grandma to the Fulton Mall as they shopped at A&S (now Macy's), the Albee Square Mall (now a pit, soon to be condos), and the Dime Bank next to Junior’s. We often took the G train, but if we drove, Ft Greene was the in-between neighborhood we traveled through. So I have strong, vivid memories of the old Ft Greene of the 70s and 80s, and memories of the occasional lunch in a neighborhood spot.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Clinton Hill/Fort Greene? Way to many to mention. What I love most about the neighborhood is the general vibe. I truly feel relaxed as I walk down the streets. Other Brooklyn brownstone neighborhoods have a hustle and bustle that we just don't have here. Folks here are CHILL. People get along. They help each other out. They play with each other's dogs. It's a great place to live. I also love the food. We have some of Brooklyn's best restaurants, and I love the fact that I never have to leave the neighborhood to eat if I don't want to. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much I love Ft. Greene Park. I think it's the greatest small park in all five boroughs. It has a peaceful serenity to it that you feel as soon as you step foot on the block. I'll save what I DON'T like about the 'hood for another time. For now we can stay positive!
Is there anything particularly special about living in the neighborhood as a musician or artist? Any neighborhood secrets you can share with us? To be honest there are LESS musicians living here than there were when I first moved in. I had tons of friends in the area, and I'd see famous and semi-famous and not-so-famous musicians walking down the street every day. A lot of these folks have been priced out over the years and relocated to Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Long Island City or elsewhere, which is really too bad. There are still a lot of musician folks around here, but now we that we have the "celebrities", the actors and such, it's a much pricier place to live. That being said, there are so many GREAT things about being a musician here. For one thing, bumping into all the musician folks that are still here - and the ones who have managed to find deals and still move in! Since we're a REAL neighborhood here, it's easy to start up a conversation on the street, whether you know the person or not. The close location to all the different types of transit is a huge help. All the subway lines, the LIRR, the buses, the bridges, even the BQE. I can get anywhere I need to go in the city easily. So I can play ANYWHERE. And since we're so close to the bridges, late night, post-gig cab rides home are affordable and the cabbies are usually cool with the trip into Brooklyn. Since I teach guitar as well, students can reach me easily from mass transit, and the drivers can park fairly easily. There are also GREAT resources here. Like BAM! How can you beat that? Great bands every weekend in the Cafe, and I've even been able to play there a couple of times. And they have the bigger shows, Next Wave Fest, all that. I even saw David Bowie going to a show there one time! You can't beat that for a great neighborhood resource. We've also got the colleges in the area. And as horribly LAME as the Guitar Center is in the Atlantic Ave, "Target Mall," it's saved my ass a few times. Last minute guitar strings, and things like that. And then some of the restaurants have really good music, like Madiba and Chez Oscar. And we get the Afro Punk Fest. And the BAM Dance Africa Fest. And Dope Jams on Myrtle Ave. There are so many great things about living here. I could go on all day.
What are your favorite NYC venues to play? To see shows at? My favorite place to play is Joe's Pub. Great backline, very professional, and folks love going there. I also love playing at a place up in East Harlem called Camaradas. The owners there go out of their way to make everyone feel like home, and they have the best audiences in town. Best Brooklyn venue, hands down, is Southpaw. I wish we could play there more often. And I must add Rockwood Music Hall in the LES has the best backline in NYC, and despite the venue's small size they work really hard to make the music sound top notch. My favorite places to see shows are Prospect Park Bandshell and Central Park Summerstage (although we've played at both of these too!). Free music, great, diverse lineups, and free for all. You get the coolest crowds and the best vibes there. I try and go to as many of these as possible every year. I hope they go on forever. Honorable mention should also go to Le Poisson Rouge, which may be the best new spot in NYC.
When’s your next show? Excellent question! Well, I just finished my MA Thesis (MA in music, of course...), so I put gigs on hold except for private parties. So the next step is to start booking some gigs again! We'll have some things happening soon. Go to our Myspace page for the latest updates.
You can purchase Bryan’s album, Afro Latino Soul, here.
Listen to Guerrerros Africanos.mp3 from Afro Latino Soul.