[Pictured: Clarence Ward III, who leads the popular Monday night jam session at “R” House]
One of the concluding sessions of the BJA 2023 Jazz Conference was “Baltimore Jazz Stories” with a panel consisting of Clarence Ward III, Quincy Phillips, Charles Funn, Marianne Matheny-Katz, and Howard Katz. This wonderfully engaging conversation among the panelists covered many topics regarding the Baltimore jazz scene, including about the emotional and cerebral improvisation of playing and singing live music, about “Baltimore’s best jam session” led by Clarence Ward III at R House every Monday night, and about the generosity of Baltimore jazz musicians. Matheny-Katz mentioned how she, among many other artists, strives to pay homage to the Baltimore jazz musicians. “Musicians are generous in Baltimore, and they always play with all of their heart,” she says.
Other topics of discussion included the powerful influence of Sean Jones, head of jazz studies at Peabody, on the Baltimore jazz community; the importance of live event spaces such as An Die Musik that create great opportunity for jazz musicians; and the young, emerging jazz talent. There was also an open discourse about music and jazz education in Baltimore city and Baltimore county schools. Charles Funn, who is a retired band instructor of 44 years, and one of whose students was Clarence Ward III, discussed the importance of early music education. “[We should] bring the young talent up in the music, and put them in an environment where they’re constantly playing, where it makes it easier to play in public,” states Funn. “Young Black kids need to see older Black kids play instruments,” says Clarence Ward III. “Music saves our children, but oftentimes the first programs to be cut in schools are music programs.” The Baltimore Jazz Alliance, as well as the Baltimore jazz community, continues to serve as a voice for music education in Baltimore.
When asked about the Baltimore sound, Quincy Phillips eloquently said, “You have to understand where we come from, the struggle [we have had]. You can’t separate that… and we navigate it through music. You’re born in it, what you see, you can’t separate it. What you’re listening to is the truth. We are playing the beat from the heart. You can tell because the room is being transformed.” The panel collectively agreed that they want to see the jazz audience expand, and for less competition and more collaboration among Baltimore’s jazz musicians, to continue creating something amazing. It was clear from this discussion that Baltimore jazz musicians continue to play and speak with their hearts about their passion for jazz.
–by Brynn Rhodes.
Brynn Rhodes is a BJA Board Member, a recent Graduate of Berklee College of Music, and a music enthusiast.