BJA board secretary Jean Farnsworth grew up playing piano in a music-loving family, receiving an AA degree at Community College of Baltimore County in classical piano performance before completing a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology at Towson University. However, her career path veered away from music. Jean says that she was found the Baltimore Jazz Alliance through the Business Volunteers of Maryland, which she discovered through her day job as a researcher and leasing coordinator for a commercial real estate firm. She says she was “seeking to find a way to bring music back into my life and make a difference in the Baltimore arts community. Upon meeting the group and learning about the mission,” says Jean, “I immediately wanted to be a part of this wonderful collective.”
Jean has been a jazz fan most of her life. Her first exposure to jazz was Miles Davis’s famous album, Kind of Blue, and she “immediately fell in love with the genre.” Monk’s Dream, by Thelonious Monk, was a close second. “After discovering these artists in the late ‘90s. I spent most of my paycheck from my part-time job at the mall pet store on jazz CDs at Record and Tape Traders.”
Asked to name her favorite jazz musicians, she says that is “a lengthy conversation—I love music. It’s part of my character and identity.” But among her jazz favorites in constant rotation at home or on the road, she names Sun Ra and Marshall Allen, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Ezra Collective, Ray Bryant, James Booker, Alice Coltrane, Michel Camillo, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Yusef Lateef, Billie Holiday, and Esperanza Spalding. In Baltimore, she is a fan of trumpeters Clarence Ward III and Brandon Woody, bassist Eddie Hrybyk, vocalist Imani Grace, pianists Aaron Hill and Eric Byrd, multi-instrumentalist Ray Winder, bass clarinetist Todd Marcus, and trombonist Rufus Roundtree.
Jean joined the board in September of 2018 has been serving as the BJA’s board secretary since January of 2020. She has helped staff the BJA booth at Artscape and the Madonnari Festivals and has volunteered at the 2019 BJA Father’s Day Jazz Fest—“which I can’t wait to do again in June 2022.” Her project management and administrative skills are always useful in her board volunteer work. Like most of us music loving Baltimoreans, she has missed the live music scene during the pandemic and looks forward to more event volunteering as live in-person events resume. This summer, she hosted one of the “Charm City Porch Concerts” held by Eddie Hrybyk at various homes throughout Baltimore. Jean says, “These concerts are an excellent way to share music, support musicians and build community.”
A jazz aficionada to the core, Jean sees the Baltimore jazz scene as equal to that in any of America’s great jazz cities. She says:
Baltimore’s history is rich and constantly evolving. The city is blessed with incredible talent in many styles of jazz, from traditional to avant garde. I also see the city as an incubator because of the inspiring talent coming out of the Baltimore School for the Arts, Peabody Institute, and the city’s many arts programs. Both local and international musicians play in Baltimore’s many spectacular music venues. There is a deep and uplifting jazz history in this city, and I’m happy to celebrate it.