The office of Reverend Nathaniel Dixon, 66, of St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church symbolizes his journey to becoming a pastor, his love of jazz music and his accomplishments while leading the Marble Hill church.
There is a note of acclaim from former Congressman Charles Rangel. Plaques from former students praising his commitment to teaching music in New York City public schools. An assortment of guitars propped against the wall. An award from the Marble Hill community. Another from the New York Landmarks Conservancy for the restoration work on the church.
And now there is also his new CD, Made in New York City: Nat Dixon and Friends, which the reverend released last fall, after a 20-year break, and which he followed up with his music video, “Back Street Blues,” last month.
Dixon calls his music “GoJa”, which is good news jazz. After hearing his music, he said, he would like listeners to consider the possibility that God is involved in everything they do and can be a source of spiritual upliftment.
“For me, it would be a shame to go through life and never get to know our creator and acknowledge him. If my music can help in that regard, great. If it’s just ‘It sounds good. I like it.’ A lot of people say that. If they get to the next level, great. I’ll come at you at different levels. It depends on where you are and where you’d like to be,” he said.
The music together Dixon and church member Edmar Flores, a professional sound editor and director. For the two, it was a mix of Dixon’s “old-school” way of making music and the new technology Flores brought to the recording process. Flores also helmed Dixon’s music video “Backstreet Blues.”
“He’s done this for so long and he’s learning more on top of more. And he’s becoming advanced. Being with him and understanding the analog system. He taught me,” Flores said.
He recalled that we the two were tweaking the audio track for the song “My Lord, My God,” Dixon learned an artist could correct a track using audio tunes, making the recording process easier and a faster. The last time Dixon included singing on a music track, the artist had to record the piece over and over until the song was perfect.
The two collaborated for the making of the video for “Backstreet Blues,” which Flores filmed outside of Pelham Parkway Houses in the Bronx, where Dixon grew up, near St. Stephen’s Church and around Harlem, where he first became active in the church, raised his family and played in the jazz clubs.
Dixon called the work “a visual montage” of his life.
That was not the only difference between 2016 and the time when Dixon made his first CD 20 years ago. “Energy, man,” he said, laughing. “It was just harder physically.”
Made in New York City consists of Duke Ellington tunes and music Dixon wrote, composed and sang. He is also joined by friends such as Rev. Lori Hartman, who sings on “My Lord, My God.” The song is Dixon’s favorite on the CD, he said.
But as Dixon renews his music career, he is transitioning from his current one. In June, he will be leaving his position as pastor at St. Stephen’s after 12 years, a departure he called “a spiritual completion” of his work there.
“With all the different things I did here with music, teaching, pastoring—I was an assistant principal, administrator—all of that was key for me getting things done here. I think it’s time for me to take a break. I’m a little tired… I think I need a little break to see what is the next step,” Dixon said.
He said that after taking a short break, he will still continue to work with his GoJa music. He has already recorded enough music to release a follow-up to Made in New York City and wants to include an orchestra, horn and strings instruments on his next endeavor. The rest, he said, will depend on what God inspires him to do next.