BJA in the Year of Covid-19

BJA in the Year of Covid-19

Summer Music Moves Goes Outside, Baltimore Jazz Conference Goes Virtual, The Calendar Stays Online, and The Beat Goes On

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a very tough year, for artists struggling to make a living, for venues struggling to stay in business, and for individuals struggling to stay healthy and to stay connected in a time of social distance and stay-at-home orders. We’ve each faced differing levels of loss and difficulty, depending on our circumstances, but for one and all, the Baltimore jazz community is a very different place than it was a year ago. We’ve seen festivals and club dates evaporate, venues shut and re-open, and on top of that an extremely contentious election season and a wave of social-justice awareness. Throughout all that, Baltimore jazz musicians continue to create and improvise, and the BJA is doing whatever we can to continue to support that creativity.

After the cancelation of our Father’s Day Baltimore Jazz Fest, of Artscape and other local festivals, and after our collaboration with Dance Baltimore — Summer Music Moves — was postponed and on the verge of being canceled, we were thrilled to be able to reimagine the latter as an open-air, multi-venue event in mid-September. Thanks to Cheryl Goodman (of Dance Baltimore)’s leadership, the event was a great success, with separate, sequential events at Eager Park, Parks and People, and the front steps of Center Stage, with each location featuring live music and live dance performances.

More recently, we presented our second annual Baltimore Jazz Conference (thanks to support from BOPA as part of Free Fall Baltimore), this time totally virtual, but still featuring an opportunity for networking, learning, and catching up on the local scene. Hosted on the Zoom platform, the conference offered panel discussions on Jazz and Activism, the History and Highlights of the Left Bank Society, Presenting in a Pandemic, and How to Listen to Jazz, and Engaging the Audience. We had presentations on Funding Options for the Jazz Community, Pulling the Curtain Back on Music Licensing and Performing Rights, Music Business and Law, and FAQs about Online Playing, plus a listening session with the Baltimore Kissa Society and an open forum with NEA Jazz Master Todd Barkan. In between, we entertained listeners with virtual concerts by Jamal Moore and Jeron White, and by the Justin Taylor Quartet.

While we certainly missed the in-person networking opportunities of our 2019 conference, it was still great to be able to see people come together to discuss all these topics, from old friends to new acquaintances, sharing ideas and reminiscing. For those who missed it, we can’t recreate the social aspect–you had to be there!–but the sessions were all recorded and are available on our website (baltimorejazz.com) for your education and enjoyment.

On Halloween we headed down to West Baltimore to support our first Member Grant project (see Introducing BJA Member Grants in the Summer 2020 issue, or online). Long time BJA Member Todd Marcus brought a fantastic group featuring Eric Kennedy, Eric Wheeler, Tim Brey, Sean Jones, and of course Todd himself, to the street for a free neighborhood performance that drew local residents of all ages as well as fans from around the area. It was a great way to bring world class music to the people where they are and to show them what a rich tradition Baltimore has to offer. One highlight was a young father with his three young sons who were all mesmerized by Eric Kennedy’s drumming (who wouldn’t be?). Another was the start of the show when the neighbor’s car battery failed and the band members had to delay the start so they could go help get her a jump start!

Finally, through all this we have tried to keep supporting our venues and artists by continuing to publish our online calendar and sending out the weekly email and social media listings The weekly pushes halted at first, when the initial lockdown had virtually all performance on hold, but as venues and individual performers found ways to present virtually, outdoors, and eventually, indoors in limited capacities, we’ve made sure to keep the calendar as up to date as we can, to let everyone know that no matter the odds, culture and art will find a way to be seen and heard. We know that people have varying degrees of risk that they are willing to take, and we can only hope that everyone stays safe and manages to hang on to their health, their art, and their sense of community so that someday we can all converge and once again enjoy in full the amazing scene that is Baltimore jazz.

Ian Rashkin works as a software developer by day, and plays bass any chance he gets, with Mike-N-Ike, the Liz Fixsen Trio, and other local artists. Prior to COVID-19, he led a very popular jam session at Germano’s in Little Italy. He has served on the board of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance since 2014 and is its current president.