Baltimore is blessed with a long list of venues providing live jazz of all types, as can be seen from the jazz calendar and on our web page, “Where’s the jazz?” But new venues are turning up all the time. And some old venues aren’t as well-known as they should be. This article, and ones to follow, will help ensure that our wonderful Baltimore venues hosting live jazz and the musicians performing there get the attention they deserve.
MARIE LOUISE BISTRO at 904 N. Charles Street is located in the heart of Mount Vernon and specializes in a blend of French, Italian, and Mediterranean cuisine at reasonable prices. It opened in January of 2009 in the building that once housed Gampy’s. The bistro has a very Parisian ambiance—one can easily imagine finding it tucked into one of the quaint arcades of Faubourg St. Germain on the Left Bank. In the front section, marble-top tables line the wall facing a glass case displaying tempting sweet confections.On the second floor, there is a lively bar.
Over the past few months, thanks to the efforts of vocalist Irene Jalenti, the artistic director, Marie Louise Bistro has been hosting live jazz duos on Friday nights from 7 to 10 pm and a Sunday Brunch from 11 am to 2 pm with no cover charge. In March, the Friday night line-up included Eddie Hyrbyk (bass) with Sami Arefin (guitar) playing Gypsy jazz the night I visited; the Joshua Espinoza duo (piano & vocals); the Todd Marcus duo (bass clarinet & piano); and Jalenti herself with Kevin B. Clark on guitar. The monthly calendars will be available on Jalenti’s Facebook page. So far, all artists performing are among Baltimore’s top talents.
Jalenti hopes to see the Mt. Vernon district develop a thriving jazz scene comparable to Greenwich Village in New York City, to what U Street in DC was once, and to what was found in Baltimore’s yesteryear along Pennsylvania Avenue. She also wants to provide another local venue where Baltimore’s best musicians can display their talents. She is at work developing a Thursday night series of Latin and Gypsy jazz, featuring vocals and guitar, at The Elephant Restaurant at 924 N. Charles Street, so watch for that one.
THE PRIME RIB is just a few blocks away, at 1101 N. Calvert Street (although the entrance is on Chase Street). Walk into The Prime Rib and you feel transported to the heart of Manhattan or Washington DC, where power brokers might be hanging out over martinis. This flagship of a set of elite steakhouses features steaks, chops, and seafood. With its tuxedoed waitstaff, black wood-paneled walls, white tablecloths, recessed lighting, and a gorgeous spray of fresh flowers gracing the elegant bar, the club evokes the atmosphere of a 1940s supper club. This is where you’d expect to find Baltimore’s elite.
And despite its name, which might suggest a hip-hop band playing The Ottobar, the Jumpstreet Trio offers jazz with a touch of class—mixed in with more than a touch of funky fun. The trio consists of bandleader, vocalist, and saxophonist Brad Collins, pianist Jeff Wilson and bassist Terry Battle. They play every Friday night from 7 to 11 pm. The Prime Rib’s high-class atmosphere doesn’t stop Collins from sharing some down-and-dirty blues and getting the crowd to sing and clap along. The website of The Prime Rib says they have live piano-and-bass jazz every night. The Jumpstreet Trio provided music at both BJA fundraising events at Caton Castle and were a huge hit each time.
COSTAS INN, at 4100 North Point Boulevard in Dundalk, does not transport you to anywhere but Dundalk. It’s only 24 minutes up I-95 from the Inner Harbor but seems a world away from the exuberance and relative sophistication of downtown Baltimore’s entertainment districts. There along a rather forlorn stretch of highway sits this no-nonsense landmark renowned for its crab cakes and Maryland-style steamed crabs. A low-profile brick building with a large neon sign, it stands out like an oasis in the desert, surrounded by patrons’ parked cars and motorcycles like so many camels at a Saharan watering hole. Inside, the space is dominated by a long rectangular bar where customers chow down on homey fare, many hunched over crab feasts spread messily over wide sheets of brown paper. Men sporting baseball caps and Ravens sweatshirts and women with big “hon”-style hairdos seem like folks who’d lean more toward Willie Nelson-Bruce Springsteen style entertainment than toward jazz.
But in fact, Costas has been hosting jazz every Wednesday night 8 to 11 pm with no cover charge for three years, and the night I visited, when Full Circle band was playing, the crowd loved it. Who knew? And the band wasn’t playing the old standards that one might play under the assumption that the listeners are too unsophisticated to appreciate headier musical fare. Not at all: Full Circle played a challenging and thoroughly entertaining mix of covers of tunes by Keith Jarrett, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Ralph Towner, Pat Metheny, etc., along with some of their own really tasty originals, including “Latin Sketch,” by guitarist Dave Leoni. Other band members are Nick Costa on drums, Roland Dorsey on bass and Jack Gussio on keyboards.
Other performers playing at Costas on Wednesday nights include pianist George Spicka, guitarists Carl Filipiak and Rodney Kelley, each with his band. Take a drive up Route I-95 some Wednesday night to enjoy some great crab and great jazz.