by Brian V. Jones
Home to restaurants, shops, banks and boutiques, Baltimore’s North Charles Street is also the scene of one of the city’s best music venues, An die Musik.
Founded by Henry Wong in 2004 as a spinoff of a record and CD store, An die Musik, now a non-profit organization, hosts jazz and classical artists with local, national and international names. “What other places in town give so many different musicians a chance?” asked Wong. “We host musicians from Towson, UMBC, College Park, Peabody, as well as musicians from all over the world.”
Wong, a medical student turned music impresario, professes a Zen-like belief in the power of affirmation. “An die Musik is much like the process and work of the musicians we book,” explains Wong. “You have to suffer with the people you believe in . . . you have to see a dream come to life . . . At An die we develop with musicians and see results together.”
Wong’s path to An die Musik has been eclectic, to say the least. Born in Hong Kong to parents with some means, Wong came to America as a student with a family background that included Chinese classical music sung by his mother and naval architecture practiced by his dad. Most important, his parents imparted to him the value of struggle. “You should always be hungry . . . you should always want more from yourself . . . it makes you appreciate struggle,” says Wong as he recalls the efforts that brought him to his present location at 409 North Charles. “I started with a record and CD store in Towson and what I have learned is that when doing important work never put yourself first. Money is one thing . . . the spirituality of what you are doing is something else. I’d rather be poor and do what I believe in and enjoy the benefit of sharing the music we offer.”
Henry Wong is not alone in his efforts to make An die Musik an enduring fixture on the Baltimore music scene. His two trusted aides-de-camp—Sean Johnson, a former audio engineer, and George “Doc” Manning, a DJ at WEAA—are equally engaged in this partnership of effort and spirit. Johnson’s vision for the future of An die Musik? “We should promote upcoming talent while we also bring in famous, big name musicians. That allows us to put lesser-known artists on stage. Baltimore has a huge population of talented musicians.”
In recounting the past performances seen at An die Musik, Johnson expressed his wonder at the variety of styles and influences audiences have come to appreciate. “We’ve had world music, jazz, classical, folk music, blues and experimental electronic music.” Wong added, “We are a scaled-down concert venue . . . people come here for a special experience . . . it’s like being in your living room.” Because of the intimacy of the 80-seat perfor-mance space, musicians, according to Sean, “love to play here because they know the audience is here to get the most out of the music. Nothing interferes with the experience. You are right there watching and listening as the music is being created in front of you.”
As manager of An die Musik’s idiosyncratically-stocked music store, Johnson explained the thinking behind the offerings: “of course we have CDs from the artists performing. . . . But we also have material people hear on the radio. . . . Other stores in the area refer people to us because they know we have things many stores don’t. Many of our patrons are over 50 and they rely on our resources for specific, hard-to-find items. We do twenty-plus concerts a month and our CD sales support the music series performances.”
Wong recalls, “The first six years we were here we were not non-profit and we lost money. Now we are non-profit and we are concerned with educating young people. We are not concerned with money. We want young people to come out and listen to jazz and learn about this music. This is their culture. Musicians give master classes, we have concerts—that’s the epitome of the music journey.”
Manning and Wong began their camaraderie in 1990 working together in the Towson music store that preceded An die Musik. Manning was the jazz specialist for a couple of record stores, wrote articles on jazz and interviewed many celebrated musicians for Coppin State College (now Coppin State University) in the ‘70s following a stint in Vietnam. At the Left Bank Jazz Society’s Famous Ballroom, Manning met and discussed jazz with Woody Shaw, Ahmad Jamal, Elvin Jones, Horace Silver, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and many others. As a DJ he is immersed in the music and the personal legacies of the legends of jazz. “An die Musik’s role in the music community in Baltimore and in the cultural life of the city is one of great importance,” says Doc. “The music that is presented at this location is built on the premise of art instead of solely entertainment. Music education is a very important, an integral part of the survival of the art form. An die Musik provides that.”
What rings clear in listening to Henry Wong talk about An die Musik’s past and future is his sincerity of purpose. Hundreds of concerts featuring major figures of jazz, the locally known, those with public acclaim and the relatively unknown (or yet to be discovered) all represent lessons to be shared with aficionados and students of the music. Wong maintains that “you have to believe in the music, the lessons of trials and tribulations that we all go through. An die Musik is like the artists and the music of jazz—its spirit. What the music and the musicians do is inspire us to appreciate America’s cultural heritage. Where else can young people go in Baltimore to get that? We sponsor the music and the artists one day at a time . . . we are part of that struggle and the next day we start all over again. We suffer with the people and the music we believe in and we see the results of the struggle together.”
As he assesses the process of maintaining An die Musik, Wong reflects, “our service is to provide a place where people can come and experience music. An die Musik is not about the big artists and ho can buy the big ticket. We do this because it is important to us. It is important that we provide a place for every artist to play.
As he looks toward An die Musik’s future Wong’s position is philosophical. “Does the public want us to continue . . . I don’t know. . . . While we cannot predict the future we are always thankful for the opportunity we have. We don’t do things to get rich. We always have a focus for the local musician. We guarantee a magical experience playing in our space. . . . There are no boundaries. Our music is for everyone.”
Over the years An die Musik has been voted Baltimore’s Best Jazz venue by Baltimore Magazine and Baltimore’s Best Jazz Space by the Baltimore City Paper.
A complete list of artists performing at An die Musik may be found at: www.AndieMusikLIVE.com.