No one ever said it takes a village to make a jazz album, but that approach can do the trick, as a new Baltimore Jazz Alliance/Left Bank Jazz Society collaboration shows. An historic recording spent 45 years in the care of Left Bank members, who kept it dry, dark and safe. It then spent six hours baking in the heat of an oven, was gingerly unspooled on a vintage reel-to-reel machine, and was subjected to 30 days of fundraising on the Internet. Then at last a “new” recording of Mickey Fields, Walter Namuth, and three other Baltimore jazz greats was released on October 27th at Caton Castle.
The fact that it happened at all is thanks to the efforts of a large and diverse group of jazz lovers.
The first link in the chain was Vernon Welsh, a Left Bank founder who recorded all of the Society’s shows, and did so with great clarity and big ears. The next link: Left Bank comrades who kept the recording safe, and John Fowler and other board members who agreed to publish the music in collaboration with BJA. In upstate New York, David Schwartz used his vintage reel-to-reel machines to digitize the recording, after he baked the tape so it wouldn’t stick together. A big thanks goes to Baltimore-bred sax player Ellery Eskelin for helping to identify tunes.
Family members of the musicians were a huge boost to the project, offering enthusiastic support along with photos of their beloved relatives, all of whom have passed on. Those thanks go to Linda Swain, niece of bassist Phil Harris; Bob Munson, stepbrother of guitarist/leader Walter Namuth; Moira Namuth, wife of Walter; Grace E. Rice, wife of drummer Purnell Rice; and last but far from least, saxophonist Mickey Fields’s family—wife Connie, daughter Jackie, granddaughter Danielle and great-grandson Christopher. A more generous and kind group of people couldn’t be imagined.
Next came a one-month fundraising period on the social funding website Kickstarter, where jazz fans from places like South Korea, Luxembourg, Estonia, Switzerland, Australia, Belgium and of course the United States donated large and small amounts to make the album a reality. Kickstarter donor Andrew Carrig helped to identify the song “The Gypsy.” Proud Maryland donors were key in surpassing the funding goal and putting the CD out.
The night of the release, Robert Shahid’s band played a scorching set at Caton Castle in Baltimore, where Ron Scott and Leslie Imes played gracious hosts, and the crowd gave a warm welcome to the families of the musicians. Thanks go to BJA leaders, including Mark Osteen, Bob Jacobson, Barry Glassman, and the one-and-only Camay Calloway Murphy, who gave counsel during the course of the project.
Since that night, there’s been talk of future collaborations between BJA and Left Bank to preserve, if not immediately release commercially, more of the LBJS’s treasure trove of Baltimore Jazz. Stay tuned.
The CD, Left Bank ’66 Live at the Madison Club, by Walter Namuth’s Quintet, featuring Mickey Fields, is available on CDBaby.com, iTunes, and Amazon.com.
Thanks again to everyone,
–Eliot Caroom, former BJA newsletter editor, and producer of Left Bank ’66