BJA MEMBER LYNN WILLIS FINDS COMMUNITY IN MUSIC

BJA MEMBER LYNN WILLIS FINDS COMMUNITY IN MUSIC

Baltimore Jazz Alliance member Lynn Willis loves the energy and sense of community she feels at live music events. Like many music lovers, she can’t wait for the pandemic to end so she can again enjoy that experience on a regular basis.

“I miss being in the audience and seeing and hearing musicians performing,” says Willis. “I enjoy the exchange between the artists and the audience. And you feel you’re part of a community. Everyone in the audience has something in common—they all came to hear the same artists.”

Willis joined BJA in 2014. She signed up at the BJA informational booth at Artscape, the annual music and arts festival held in midtown Baltimore, and has gone on to help staff the booth as a volunteer in subsequent years. The event’s organizers had to cancel it last year because of the pandemic but hope to bring it back this summer, depending on local conditions.

Growing up in West Baltimore, Willis was first exposed to jazz through her father. He was an avid member of the Left Bank Jazz Society, which sponsored concerts in Baltimore from the mid-1960s through the 1990s, bringing big names like John Coltrane and Duke Ellington and countless other jazz legends to Charm City.

“Many a Sunday afternoon my father would go to the Left Bank, and I joined him a few times,” recalls Willis. She also heard plenty of jazz through her father’s LPs. The swinging sounds of Miles, Monk, and other classic jazz artists filled the home. 

Willis says she has an abiding appreciation and respect for classic jazz, but she has found her musical home more in the realm of smooth jazz. She digs saxophonist Gerald Albright, and says she is still getting over the loss of innovative vocalist Al Jarreau, who passed away in 2017, and who had won several Grammys in the jazz, pop, and R&B categories. “It’s hard to believe he’s gone,” reflects Willis.

Willis sees music as an antidote to the political turmoil and strife that has roiled the nation. She feels strongly about the importance of programs that expose young people to music and teach them to play.

“Music is an international language. It helps spread peace, love, and harmony, in our community and around the world,” she says. “It increases our respect for one another.”

Mitch Mirkin is acting director of communications for the Office of Research and Development of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is a longtime jazz lover and in recent years has devoted his musical talents to jazz composing. His original compositions are featured on two CDs—Dance of the DNA (2019) and The Madison Avenue Shul (2020)—with a third in the works for 2021.