Kris Funn and Eric Kenned

Reflections on the first Baltimore Jazz Fest

The first Baltimore Jazz Fest, presented in Druid Hill Park by the Baltimore Jazz Alliance, in partnership with the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, has come and gone, and I’m pretty sure that all those who were there will agree that it was a magical day. Despite some truly terrible weather, all the performers carried on and played with great energy; the vendors and crew all kept a positive attitude and made everything flow perfectly, even while we were constantly asking ourselves “do we need to shut this down?”; and a couple of hundred people stuck it out for hours, even the whole day, dancing in the rain, cheering on the bands, and keeping everyone’s spirits up on a day that could easily have been a disappointment. Of course a lot of folks were kept away by the rain, and understandably so – I can tell you for sure that no one went away dry. But those who braved the elements for this special day showed without a doubt that there is strong support for an event like this, and that the Baltimore jazz scene is strong and dedicated.

Those who made it also know that history and vitality were on display. From Rosa Pryor’s exhibit on the history of Baltimore jazz, to the representation on stage of three generations of Baltimore jazz musicians, we wanted to both highlight the Baltimore jazz scene’s rich past as well as its diverse and exciting present and future. Among the performers and audience members we had people who remember bygone days when jazz was thriving in spots like the Sportsmen’s Lounge, the New Haven Lounge, and the Famous Ballroom, among others. Notably, our headlining act, the “Baltimore Legends” band put together especially for this event, showcased some of the great talent that has been gracing the Baltimore scene for decades. We also had folks who are frequently on the scene at such current hot spots as Caton Castle, An die Musik, Germano’s Piattini, Jazzway, Liam Flynn’s, Sign of the Times, and so on – the new vanguard of Baltimore jazz, if you will. Plus, we got off to a great start with the students of the Dunbar High Jazz Ensemble, whose talent and enthusiasm gave a hint of the next generation of up and coming artists. In other words, we have a lot to celebrate and enjoy – past, present, and future – in this scene of ours, and the Baltimore Jazz Fest was a great way to appreciate that richness.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to says “you have to do it again”, “next year is going to be great”, and so on. Indeed, I think we showed that there is a great desire for this to become a part of Baltimore jazz life. And many people have ideas of how it can be better, more inclusive, more varied, more successful – we welcome all these ideas and hope that IF we can turn this into an annual event, those ideas will help it to continue to grow, improve, and be a source of pride for our community.

But that’s a big IF. Honestly, it was a lot of work to make this festival happen. Much of the credit goes to BJA founder Barry Glassman, whose idea it was and who did the lion’s share of organizing and arranging. But Barry was clear from the start that he was not prepared to take on that role more than once, at least not to that extent. Of course a lot of work was done by our board members, by our partners at BCRP, and by our advisors and volunteers, including our sponsor Paula Phillips at Jazz Beyond Borders. And thankfully, now that some of the groundwork is laid, certain tasks will become easier. But some challenges are ongoing, and others will continue to evolve as we work to include the best performers and the most exciting experience we can. In short, we’re going to need more help – more sponsors, more partners, and more volunteers.

If you want to be part of this effort, make sure to let us know, especially if you have skills/experience in fundraising, organizing, and/or promoting. I won’t go into specifics here, but watch your email, and our website (baltimorejazz.com) for details about what it takes to make this fest happen, and how you can help. We also would love to hear your feedback – positive and negative – about this first Baltimore Jazz Fest, particularly from those folks who were there, in person, at the first (annual?) Baltimore Jazz Fest.

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POSTSCRIPT: The above was originally published in the December 2016 issue of our newsletter. Since then, we have formed a committee of highly motivated people with a variety of skills and experience, and are actively working on plans for a Baltimore Jazz Fest 2017. However, it all depends on raising the funds, so wish us luck and we’ll keep you posted and plans develop.

Best wishes,
Ian Rashkin, president BJA