It was his passion for the arts, his appreciation for teachers, and his firm belief grounded in personal experience that the arts are fundamental to a good education that first led us to be intrigued by Roger Tilles. He has seen that children in struggling schools blessed enough to have an exceptionally committed educator can succeed in many ways. He has felt it himself as a product of the Great Neck public schools.
If you ask, he will tell you that a third grade teacher is a primary reason and focus for his and his siblings having music make a substantial difference in their lives, “In no small way was this great teacher, never knowing what the results of his efforts would be, just doing what he loved and doing it well, responsible for there being the Tilles Center. Teachers never know the result of their efforts but they can change the world.”
Roger Tilles boasts a rich resume that includes a law practice, and serving as Director of Tilles Investment Companies. He has taught at the University level, and been involved in one way or another with government for decades. He is possibly even better known for his dedication to philanthropy as the founder and/or Chair of diverse organizations, including the Long Island Arts Alliance, Association for a Better Long Island, the Long Island Regional Planning Board, the Long Island Association, WNET/WLIW Public Television, Long Island Philharmonic, Tempel Beth-El of Great Neck, and multiple interfaith projects most notably “Project Understanding” with the late Monsignor Tom Hartman.
When we sat down with Tilles in December of 2019 the current situation, while already manifesting, had hardly begun to register on Long Island. He started out daydreaming about wonderful places where he could retire and then announced he won’t do it, at least not yet. He’s got unfinished work as Regent for the Tenth Judicial District of the New York State Education Department, where he has served since 2005.
This work has often been a frustrating, uphill battle, but he’s a passionate, committed advocate. He’s grateful for local administrators whom he sees as truly dedicated to education, such Robert Dillon of Nassau BOCES, William Johnson of Rockville Center, Thomas Rogers of Syosset Schools, Lorna Lewis of Plainview-Old Bethpage, and Jack Bierworth of Herricks and Hempstead, with whom he has consulted regularly for 15 years
Now, COVID-19 has caused everything to shift dramatically. There’s an in depth interview here, conducted by Newsday Columnist and Editorial Writer Lane Filler of Newsday with The Hon. Roger Tilles and Dr. Thomas Rogers, Superintendent of Syosset School District. Another insightful conversation was led by News12's Elizabeth Hashagen. It included TIlles and nationally renowned educator and activist, Nicholas Ferroni:
Much remains murky, and while some systems like Syosset are better equipped to plan ahead for multiple possible circumstances, even the best districts on Long Island are gravely challenged. What does seem clear, is that the issues Tilles spoke of a million years ago last December remain relevant, perhaps even moreso than they were back then…
A Looming Teacher Shortage
When we sat down with him in late 2019, the most important thing Tilles wanted us to know is that there is a pressing, critical need for teachers. Over 100,000 are projected to retire within the next 5 years. At the same time, enrollment in schools of education is down 40% due to, among other reasons, the loss of morale from the disastrous roll out of the Common Core. State and Federal support is insufficient.
He shakes his head, “The implementation of common core was so discouraging …what they really need is to let educators be educators.”
Tilles then goes on to talk about how he thinks Regents and other tests distract from important things we ought to be teaching: How to live a healthy and fulfilling life, financial literacy, problem solving, information literacy, civic engagement. He agrees that math and science are important but will also insist: So are the Arts and Humanities.
He is determined to stay in the system until legislation cements those aspects of learning into the curriculum
We spend a little bit of time talking about the challenges inherent in funding our schools, the problem of excruciatingly high property taxes and how 2% tax caps do so much harm to our schools while doing so little to address the real problems inherent in the system. We touch on a much more deeply researched, nuanced approach to addressing the school funding issue that had been promised but was abandoned by New York State when the Great Recession demanded budget cuts.
When we say the words “Unfunded Mandates” he bristles.
“Many want those who have little opportunity to even decrease their chances of success.” Like any good businessman, Tilles agrees that reviewing policies to reduce waste is important. As a man with decades of experience in public service, he is well aware that the system requires a lot of revision to be healthy, and is painfully aware of the shameful things that happen when people have corrupt motivations, a lack of understanding, or simply seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
“The testing regime is a problem. It wastes tremendous financial and human resources on all the preparing and grading, and quite frankly undermines actual teaching. Those who demanded this suffered at the polls thanks to the Opt-out movement.”
He blames no particular party, “Bush started it. Obama doubled down. Cuomo and Republicans passed legislation together. It’s a bi-partisan nightmare.”
Still, Tilles is deeply concerned that too many people use the phrase, “Unfunded Mandates” as an excuse to devalue special education, teachers, and the arts, “I chaired a special education review of mandates. We went through 130 of these so-called ‘unfunded-mandates.’ Of those, four seemed questionable. Upon further review, only one was deemed unnecessary.”
This doesn’t mean his thinks the systems are perfect. “Unfunded mandates” and “Accountability” are charged words that don’t reflect reality.
Tilles has been a direct target of this, moving to another topic, where his choice of words in the past have led some to accuse him of racism.
Like every human, Tilles can’t prove the purity of his heart. We he did offer was this: “The organization Erase Racism is honoring me at their upcoming Spring Gala at the Garden City Hotel [now scheduled for November]. As a Regent, I have to be very careful about conflicts of interest. I can’t solicit funds. I told them that. Even so, they said they want to honor me anyway. That’s quite an honor.”
We agree – It’s very hard to imagine that if the Board of Directors of that particular organization didn’t think Roger TIlles was part of the solution, much less that he was part of the problem, they wouldn’t do that.
We won’t get into the particular choice of words that sparked the controversy. He’s found better ones to express his studied opinion of the leadership of the Hempstead/Wyandanch school district:
He will further explain that the blame goes much further than the particular district. As former Chair of the LI Regional Planning Board, he saw that the train of events that led to this situation was easy to discover: Long ago, zoning was deliberately drawn on economic lines circumscribing the highest unemployment areas. Not only did this put the district itself at an inherent disadvantage to its neighbors, it, among other factors, demoralized those within it, empowered those who would take advantage of the situation, and generally invited poor behavior.
School Board Members were elected based on their willingness to hire family members and friends, and to pay them outsized wages, “The kids came second.”
Tilles notes that one of the biggest priorities in education in NYS is local control: Democracy. He agrees with this. Still, he firmly believes that in certain cases there should be mechanisms to supercede local control. He is happy to report that recently a bill has been signed by the governor to appoint monitors in those districts.
He offers his review of another situation, Roosevelt: “They had a State takeover. For five to six years there was no improvement. The State is in no way qualified to run a school, but it still worked. Eventually, the community got fed up and elected good governance. There were 90% state funded capital improvements. They basically replaced every school and inched up.”
Getting to the Roots of the Problems
Tilles believes deeply that public oversight and intervention is required to deal with acute corruption within these districts. Still, as he learned looking at the history, there are broader driving factors. The whole mess is, in fact, a product of long-ago established systems that are racist, classist, corrupt recipes for ongoing disaster.
While the socio-economic status of the individual residents has an impact, it’s not the only thing driving disparity, “The tax revenue in these challenged areas is based more on personal income than other areas, simply because there are so few commercial properties. In Great Neck, 35% of the school taxes are paid for by retail and offices. In Roosevelt, less than 5% are.“
He goes deeper, “Nassau is the only county in the state where the county often assesses property taxes too high. This fuels tax attorneys who engage in multi-year appeals, knowing they will get some reduction and money will have to be given back. That money then comes back from the County and not the school district that spent it. So, basically, the people of Roosevelt end up helping to pay Great Neck’s refund.”
Those that benefit from this system are not going to allow changes to it.
THE POWER OF ART AND SOMEONE WHO CARES
This is my 16th year as a Regent. You know how I get paid? I get to go to elementary schools four or five times per month. I read them poems. I’ve visited about 100 districts, spending a half hour at a time with the 3rd or 4th grade class.”
“I learned something very quickly: In my first school visit to Central Islip, I went to read poems to the 3rd and 4th grade. When I asked, all raised their hands that they were excited and want to go to college. The kids were smart and enthusiastic. They got the meanings. They memorized. They interacted. Then I visited them in 9th grade….you can’t believe these are the same kids. Out of 30 or so, a half dozen planned to graduate. Two planned to go to a local college.
What happens between 4th and 9th grade? They don’t have someone to mentor them, to guide them in choosing courses and figuring out what direction to take. Overall there are few positive role models and lots of gangs filling the void.”
He reflects again on the disparity: “In Great Neck, there is a far greater ratio of counselors to students than in Central Islip.”
He talks about how the teachers from elementary to middle school seem to lose faith, too. How discouraging and hopeless it all seems….and then…his eyes light up…
“As I was leaving Central Islip High School, I heard a choir. I love music, so I stuck my head in….I figured it must be a college choir. It turns out it is 20 high school kids singing their hearts out getting ready to perform in Salzburg, Austria, for the Mozart Bicentennial!
They are SOOOOO GOOD!!!”
He stuck around. Finally, they noticed and invited him in, “I asked how many planned to graduate. Every hand went up. Half are planning on college!”
I ask, “Why you and not your peers?”
A girl answers, ‘We LOVE music. The choir teacher says we can’t stay unless we do our work. He calls us once per week to keep up on us.’
THIS IS THE POWER OF MUSIC, OF ART, OF SOMEONE WHO CARES!”
Still, the Corruption
We’ve mentioned Dale Lewis and his passion for arts education before. Someday we will profile him directly. Roger, in fact, was the first person to recommend we do so. Dale is amazing. Dale loves to work with kids and has volunteers ready to help. He is able and willing at times to basically bring music programs to schools for free.
On at least one occasion, according to Tilles, he seems to have run into opposition because an administrator wasn’t in charge of the program. Other stories Roger shares involve opportunities to be involved in major regional programs, worth $3-$400,000 that administrators pulled out of for similar reasons.
He is intensely frustrated at the lack of attention to these and other actions that he asserts, quite frankly, are almost criminal and hurt our children and taxpayers.
Endeavors Beyond the Formal Education System
Among Roger TIlles’ extracurricular activities is the Long Island Arts Alliance (https://longislandartsalliance.org/). The mission there is to serve as “an alliance of and for the region’s not-for-profit arts, cultural and arts education organizations. LIAA promotes awareness of and participation in Long Island’s world-class arts and cultural institutions. Formed in 2003, LIAA offers leadership and diverse support services to arts organizations, serves as an advocate for arts education in our schools and collaborates on strategies for economic development and community revitalization.”
It’s not easy to get organizations who are generally competing over insufficient funds to work together. Tilles wonders if part of the challenge on Long Island is that, while some places have some sense of this, historically Long Island as a whole is not known for its loyalty to community.
“It was a delicate situation,” reflects Tilles, “We had to be very careful. It’s an endeavor to get those in the arts community to work together, but they didn’t want us to cannibalize the limited funding for the arts.”
The LIAA endeavored to foster collaboration, but were met with resentment, so they changed the model and did no fundraising. For 3-4 years there were grants from NYS and others for tourism and such, but it was impossible not to lose money. The whole effort appeared to be a losing proposition.
Then they found something folks could agree to get behind: The Arts Map
The collaborative map concept works,” says Tilles, talking about this map of Long Island that pinpoints arts and cultural organizations and offers targeted advertising that they then distribute from Penn Station to Montauk Point, “The budget is tiny and the map self-sustains.”
The LIAA also prepares education and management forums. They are very careful not to do anything that infringes on the art funding pool, nor to set up anything that has various organizations competing against each other.
Another success has been the Scholar-Artists program
“The arts community likes it. Newsday covers it. What’s really great is that it raises the profile of arts students. It’s not just Scholar-Athletes having their awards up on the wall when you walk into a high school. Now there are Scholar-Artists. It helps reduce the stigma that art kids are somehow not mainstream.”
It’s a relatively inexpensive program. The kids are nominated by their school art teachers. A panel that includes 15-20 teachers and others volunteer to evaluate. Twenty winners in Nassau and Suffolk counties are announced. They celebrate with a reception that offers a wonderful opportunity to highlight the kids and raises $15-20,000 to support the program.
They are still accepting applications for the 2020-2021 program, though now all the galleries and theaters are closed and no-one’s sure when such receptions may occur again. The primary thing the LIAA is promoting now is resources. It’s assisting artists and arts organizations in surviving the panedemic.
Most all involved in the arts feel deeply for kids across Long Island – especially our High School Seniors -- who are missing out on their performances, art receptions and other deeply meaningful end of year events. In response, another organization that Roger is fundamentally connected to, The Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, began soliciting videos of young performing artists. Recently, they started posting them online. You can find them on the Tilles Center For the Performing Arts YouTube Channel and their Facebook Page.
They can’t hear the applause or feel the energy of a crowd…but it’s something.
For Schools, Now What?
Schools like to have data to drive their guidance. Teachers like to work with curriculum developed over years. Since we met in December, they have had to completely change the way kids are taught.
A current task now, being conducted by Robert Dillon of Nassau BOCES, is to survey all of the schools in Nassau County to more formally assess which have the proper broadband/wifi and hardware, and whether there is actually communication going back and forth between teachers and students.
Are the teachers able to deliver? Are the students able to receive? What kinds of online teaching have been happening? They already know this ranges considerably, with some districts capable of providing full zoom classes to houses of children who have ample space and equipment to sign in. Others have simply been providing a link to homework, with no real teacher interface. Others, still, don’t even have the equipment needed to possibly have any such exchange.
Tilles wonders: What is happening to student morale, much less their mental health? The virus and quarantine alone are traumatic. What happens when teachers and students are unable to make the social/emotional connections that are such a large part of education? What is the impact on parents? Teachers?
Then, there are these looming funding cuts that are coming at the same time schools are forced to implement a Plan B. Will the federal government offer assistance, or are we looking at 20-50% budget cuts? How will these be distributed across school districts, a few of which rely on the State for less than 10% of their funding, and some of which for more than 70%. Those more reliant, of course, also have the kids least likely to have Wi-Fi and the most likely to have language and other learning barriers. Still, the more self-sufficient schools stand to lose a lot, too.
What happens when school board and budget votes, which usually have a 10-15% turnout comprised largely of those who have kids in the district, are suddenly conducted via ballots that are mailed directly to voters?
Colleges have concerns, too. Why pay for the first two years of a prestigious school when an online service that has much more experience in the digital arena will offer that basic education for so much less? Then there are the broader economic impacts…schools are important to the economy.
Even more, there are questions on the efficacy of remote learning, especially among younger students. Some research is pending. Anecdotally, it’s likely there are major concerns regarding stresses on even the best equipped of families. While those who are enthusiastic to begin with are likely to remain so, Tilles fears that overall engagement will suffer.
As though the virus were actually an earthquake, gaps in education that were gaping before are now becoming widening chasms. Noone knows when schools will physically reopen. Kids, parents, teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, so many others have real concerns. For many parents, their economic challenges are compounded by the sudden removal of a safe place to keep their children enriched. For too many students, even with the virus, school was the safest, most nurturing place to be.
How do we keep providing adequate services to those with developmental challenges or language barriers? What happens to art, music, and physical education which, anecdotally, people seem to finally be remembering are important because we’re seeing the impacts of cutting them?
Are we going to continue to progress with 21st Century learning skills that are critical to our society and simply navigating adult life, such as information literacy, financial literacy, critical thinking, civic engagement, problem solving? These were important discussions that are now being put off. It’s really important that we get back to them.
One benefit Tilles sees is that we might begin to realize that all the testing is fairly expendable; that there are better ways to assess students and the efficacy of teaching practices than spending so much time and resources on what have become unreasonable, high-stakes games.
And then…what happens when we try to go back? What about the suggestion that maybe it’s more cost effective NOT to go back? Safety – for the students, the teachers, and everyone else – is paramount. Still, we must also remember the important role school buildings themselves play.
Tilles notes that the buildings themselves are not the major cost drivers in education, especially not when the value they provide is taken into consideration. Can we/should we get better at online teaching? Of course. Can it replace the in-person experience? He can only speak anecdotally – these studies are still being done – but he suspects that even as there may be an increasing blend, the actual in-person learning remains the most effective.
Kate Sydney was one of the very first Fireflies, a co-founder in fact. She has served us well as Managing Partner throughout our existence. Though she's stepping back a little bit to spend more time with her beautiful boys, she will always be one of our primary artists. We like to think that when we put on her gorgeous jewelry we are channeling a little bit of the calming, uplifting spirit that has skillfully guided us thus far. Here's her bio:
"Kate Sydney is an alchemist of timeless designs with a modern edge and natural feel. She employs striking gemstones and precious metals in each of her one of a kind creations. Kate takes Mother Nature’s gifts and concocts wearable vessels, which are reflections of the staggering beauty of our planet.
'I create pieces that I infuse my heart and being into. I carefully select each gemstone and think about how I want to showcase the magic it possesses just by being itself. I want my clients to feel like the best version of themselves when they’re wearing my designs….like the glow from the gems might seep into their body and light up their spirit.'
Although she has been making and selling jewelry since the age of twelve (more than 25 years), in 2013 Kate earned a certificate in Comprehensive Jewelry Training from the only licensed and accredited jewelry trade school in New York, Studio Jewelers, Ltd. There, she added fabrication, forging, stone setting, wax carving, and casting to her skill set.
In 2011, Kate co founded an artists cooperative in the heart of Northport Village called The Firefly Artists. In the last eight years, Firefly has showcased the work of over one hundred Long Island artists of varying media.
In 2018, Kate Sydney was selected for two juried exhibitions through the Huntington Arts Council. Her piece, ‘Eaton’s Neck Arrowhead’ was awarded an honorable mention for the ‘Discovering Long Island’ show.
While the Firefly eagerly awaits the moment we get to open a new set of doors, Kate's gorgeous jewelry can be found on her website www.katesydney.com .You can also see her work at Nest on Main Market on Main St. in downtown Northport, which is celebrating it's first full year in business!
We asked Ron Stein, Board President of the Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills New York, what is needed next to help transform the home into a museum and cultural site to advance the musical, cultural and spiritual legacies of John and Alice Coltrane. Here is what he told us:
The specific ask is seeking to raise approximately $250K to secure the remainder of a $172K NY Matching Grant to complete the exterior stabilization. We are also looking for $50K for staffing and program funding. The Home will cost us approximately $1.4 million to complete and open to the public (hopefully within 3 years).
We have made considerable progress on the Home. Over the last 2 years, the mold has been completely remediated, with the next phases being the repairs to the foundation and brick façade. Working with the Town of Huntington for repairs of the wrought iron fence and gate – the Town has earmarked approximately $40,000 and is currently soliciting bids. Additional site cleanup is about to be underway, and the walkways and porches will be repaired once the Home’s foundation and façade is properly repaired. We are about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the façade work.
We just completed our fourth annual, and highly successful Coltrane Day. We had record daytime crowds, and aside from wrestling with the weather, performances were well-attended, the first beer garden added a new and desirable element to the event, and workshops and community jams were outstanding throughout.
We continue our pilot work both in Hempstead schools and Wyandanch library – minority areas which have seen terrible cutbacks to music programs. We are working to establish a multi-week residency program in Hempstead this Fall, and will continue with library programs. A program for seniors is also being developed which will debut at the Wyandanch Public Library in October.
We have received a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for our first significant hire – project manager, who will help oversee some of the next phases of the Home’s restoration, assist with fundraising, programming and other aspects of the overall project.
We have an Education Committee that is becoming quite active, and which we are looking to expand. It is led by Carol Brown, and anyone interested is welcome to participate.
Thanks again for all your photo work this past event – great stuff as always!!
Hope this is helpful,
Ron Stein is sharply intelligent and deeply passionate. He loves film, music, tennis, hiking, and getting his hands straight into the dirt. He is also a Long Island pioneer who dedicates incredible resources to causes that resonate with him. These have included strong advocacy for those impacted by fraud, pioneering Smart Growth land use philosophy on Long Island and, most recently, a tremendous effort to advance the legacies of John and Alice Coltrane. Above all, Ron is a devoted husband, a great friend, and a proud father of two young men. While his sons are each very much their own individuals, they do seem to have that same spark in their eyes…
More Than a Career
Ron is a Certified Financial Planner who was among the first proponents of the socially and environmentally responsible investing movement. Since 1987, he has been a member of the Social Investment Forum trade association. Throughout the early and middle ‘90s, he was a frequent lecturer and workshop leader on Personal Finance, Social and Environmentally Responsible Investing, and various environmental topics. He served on many panels, and spoke at several Long Island and New York radio and television events.
To this day, Ron continues to weave principals of sound financial planning together with enabling people to align their investments with their values. His business, Good Harvest Financial Group, is now 25 years old. When the US economy finally fully hit the wall in 2008, Ron devoted tremendous energy to helping people understand what was happening and where they could find help. He founded an organization specifically dedicated to helping victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. He then went on to launch the Network for Investor Action and Protection, an investors’ advocacy not-for-profit group of over 1200 members nationwide. Their purpose is to advance protections for investors as well as victims of fraud. We weren’t entirely surprised the morning we awoke to hear Ron’s voice on NPR, talking about his understanding of needed regulatory reform. He shared some of these views directly with Congress in 2012.
Man with a Vision
We first met Ron in the late 90’s when he was launching a very different organization: Vision Huntington. He had some experience as an environmentalist who had primarily gotten involved with national organizations like the Sierra Club. Locally, he had spoken out against the Shoreham nuclear plant and had also helped bring some good models to light when the region was figuring out how to preserve its Pine Barrens. Ron came to our attention when he joined Long Island’s first and still only community leadership organization, Leadership Huntington.
You see, Ron’s attention had now been turned right to his own back yard. Frustrated by land development that seemed to occur without concern for the environment or the community, he had recently joined with a local architect to convene a variety of stakeholders to introduce a then-revolutionary concept called "Smart Growth." The emphasis was on broad stakeholder participation, new approaches to housing, open space preservation, traffic and pedestrian safety, and the creation of walkable, attractive communities.
Ever willing to go straight to whomever he feels will help advance a cause, Ron surveyed community members extensively. This included getting roughly 900 of them to fill out a 5-page quantitative and qualitative survey at the local Fall Festival. He also organized local leaders to visit model communities, and brought in top-of-their field speakers from across the nation to talk about cutting-edge land use practices. He worked with the Town to establish a Smart Growth Steering Committee that brought together local government department heads and other representatives of diverse interests who may never have otherwise connected. Together with a growing coalition of public, private, and not-for-profit interests, he championed Long Island’s first true community planning process. Reflecting his dogged determination to sharply raise the bar, he became known around Huntington Town Hall as “The Man Who Wouldn’t Take ‘Yes’ For an Answer.”
It…together with supportive, complimentary and sometimes tempering efforts alongside him…worked. A matrix of ambitions some called a “Tablet of Intimidation” and others just called “pipe dreams” was largely realized within five years. Fundamental change was happening. Of course, it must be emphasized that none of this occurred without tremendous teamwork. While perspectives differed, Ron was far from alone in yearning for a better way to build. The organization was deeply blessed with smart, conscientious, pragmatic, hard-working people, many of whom continue to directly serve its mission to this day. The broad coalition of program partners and supporters of the organization constitute a great wave of positive momentum. Still, the more experienced we have become, the more we realize how Ron’s skills at facilitation and communication at the very beginning of this movement made an extraordinary difference. He made sure people knew what was going on, why things were proceeding the way they were and, even more importantly, that everyone around the table was heard and understood. He did this always with humor, humility, and genuine interest.
The fruits of Ron’s labor soon took on a life of their own. While the Town of Huntington readily embraced the general principles of Smart Growth it also, at first, demurred somewhat from challenging its own status quo. The Town of Brookhaven, on the other hand, declared that it was ready for significant change. Vision Huntington quickly grew to become Vision Long Island, which you can find sharing excellent information on Facebook, here and on YouTube, here.
It’s bittersweet to watch a beloved child grow into adulthood. While things didn’t always go exactly as Ron envisioned, we have always been impressed with the grace with which he allowed the organization to assert its independence and come into its own. Over the last 20 years, Vision Long Island has grown to play a tremendous role in community-based planning, in influencing policy decisions, and in facilitating active cooperation across interests and perspectives.
In addition to specific project work, the organization brings an extraordinary number and diversity of stakeholders together for the highly informative annual Smart Growth Summit. It meaningfully celebrates people, projects and policies that are making a positive impact through the annual Smart Growth Awards. All in all, in a world where one can sometimes wonder if different perspectives can ever really reach across the table, have productive dialogue and actually work together, those involved with Vision Long Island have established that the answer is “Yes.” Our communities are better for it. We are grateful.
A Jazz Man…
Ron knows a lot about economics and finance. He cares very deeply about the environment. He loves Long Island’s communities. Beyond what we’ve mentioned, he has been active with numerous non-profit organizations and environmental initiatives. This includes a great passion for the arts and for history…especially Jazz.
When Ron learned that the home in which John Coltrane wrote his masterpiece, “A Love Supreme” was in Dix Hills and due for demolition, he quickly got on board to help however he could. He is now President of the Board of an organization called The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. Together with the Coltrane family, local historians and diverse artistic devotees they have saved the house where this legend raised a family and spent his final years. Now, they are working to restore and adaptively reuse it.
Art, Culture and Education
The vision for the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills includes the creation of a museum and cultural center that reflects the life, the music, and the spiritual and humanitarian legacies of both John and Alice Coltrane. The historic restoration of the home will include a selection of original furnishings and instruments, an extensive digital archive with listening stations, a meditation garden dedicated to Alice Coltrane, and archival materials donated by Coltrane scholars and collectors.
The importance of both John and Alice Coltrane have a lot to do with incredible music. Through, above and beyond that was a tremendous desire to use their talents and influence as a force for good. As such, a big component of this project involves education. Pilot programs have already begun offsite and will continue at the Home when it opens to the public. As stated on the website www.thecoltranehome.org , they are focused on outreach to the community that will:
A Journey Integral to the Mission
One thing we have long appreciated about Ron is how the things he is involved with tend to have a journey that’s as meaningful as the ultimate goal. This starts with the people he joins forces with whom tend, by and large, to be extraordinary lights. Together, they provide a depth of experience that seems to pervade every step of the journey. While the house is not yet opened, it’s safe to say an awful lot has already occurred to advance the Coltranes’ legacies.
Our first encounter with the organization was an intimate gathering of jazz greats at the Greenwich Village restaurant of Yasuhiro Fujioka (“Fuji”) who is, among many things, one of the world’s most important collectors of Coltrane memorabilia. The event also included involved jazz greats, community leaders, aficionados, and others. Speakers included Cornel West and Carlos Santana, who is the honorary chairman of the The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills’ Board, as well as Ron and Steve Fulgoni, the Town of Huntington resident who first realized what the house was and how important it was to save. John and Alice’s son, Board Chairman, Ravi Coltrane played with his quartet. Elvis Costello donated a guitar that he signed on site. The power of the music was matched by the passion of voices who had been touched by the musician and who recognized the potential great music has to lift the human spirit. You can Check out images from that powerful day here. On the organization website, you can find a really beautiful video made that day by many of the incredible artists and supporters in attendance.
Soon after, the first annual Coltrane Day was held at Heckscher Park in Huntington. This event represents an extraordinary fusion of professional and enthusiast, master and student, style and substance. There are workshops, artist booths and great food. A broad variety of musical genres and other art forms have been included, ranging from gospel to funk to electronica and, of course, a whole lot of jazz. You can check out images from the first Coltrane Day here and from the 2016 event here. Learn about the upcoming 2017 Coltrane Day, to be held of July 22nd, here.
The most recent event we attended was a sold out special showing of the critically acclaimed documentary, “Chasing Trane”. It was held at Huntington’s cinematic gemstone, The Cinema Arts Centre. The moving documentary about John Coltrane was followed by a Q&A with the film’s director John Scheinfeld and with renowned bassist Reggie Workman, who was part of the John Coltrane quartet in the early 1960s. There was a lot to appreciate.
John and Alice Coltrane’s lives are inspirational stories that continue to have deep relevance, not just for musicians, but for humanity as a whole. We are grateful to Ron and to everyone else endeavoring to advance their important legacies. We can’t wait for next month to get to experience Coltrane Day again, and look forward to seeing the home become a cultural center of its own.
To learn more about how to support this mission, please check out this page on their website:
Thanks, Ron, for all you do and for all you bring us to appreciate. We are grateful.
2/18/20: This article has been corrected from the original version. where Steve Fulgoni's first name was mistakenly stated as John.