Since the introduction of our Baltimore Playlist in the Winter 2022 issue, I have received additional recommendations from various members of the jazz community. All of the following performances feature local musicians, past and present, who have contributed to the city’s distinctive soundscape and cultural aura.
Lawrence Jackson, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and History at Johns Hopkins University, and the Director of the Billie Holiday Center for Liberation Arts, starts us off with a boogie-woogie blast from the past:
The first words that come to mind when I hear the phrase ‘Baltimore Jazz’ are Joseph ‘Doc’ Simms and the Original Pickaninny Band. This was an important brass band from Old Town’s Half Moon Alley, which trained seemingly everyone who would go on to push the boundary from rag to jazz: Eubie Blake, Preston Duncan, Pike Davis, Joe Jones, Elmer Snowden, Clarence Holiday, and Joe Rochester. Simms violently resisted his youngsters from “ragging” the songs they played during parades, concerts, festivals, and accompanying the funeral processions back from Mt. Laurel Cemetery. But braving his rawhide whip, they ragged the tunes and belted out improvised solos nonetheless. The song for me would be Blake’s ‘Chestnut and Low (In Baltimo’),’ a boogie-woogie (or Walking Bass) song from his teenage years.”
Dave Ballou, Professor of Jazz and Commercial Music at Towson University, said he thinks of Eric Kennedy when he hears the phrase Baltimore Jazz: “To me, Eric is ‘Baltimore Jazz’ personified!” With regard to a specific performance, Ballou recommended the tune “Loverman,” recorded in 1969 by Mickey Fields (saxophone), Richard “Groove” Holmes (organ), George Freeman (guitar) and Billy Jackson (drums) for the album Astonishing Mickey Fields.[i] Fields was a legendary performer who played every major club in Baltimore, among them the Left Bank Jazz Society, where this recording was made. Drummer Bobby Ward, another Baltimore native called Fields “the top horn player in the city” explaining that “the most outstanding thing was how well he was known outside of Baltimore,” despite his refusal to leave the city.Although major performers like Art Blakey and Lionel Hampton asked Fields to move to New York, the dynamic saxophonist remained in Charm City, where he thoughtfully mentored several generations of up-and-coming musicians. https://open.spotify.com/track/1i9BnZT6uSfc4z9ztYd3vY?si=ac828810b059487a
The final contribution comes from local musician and BJA board member Liz Fixsen, who also serves as this newsletter’s editor.
When I think of jazz that captures something of the essence of Baltimore, I think of Todd Marcus’s 2018 album On These Streets (a Baltimore Story). The tunes on the album portray the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, a sometimes-troubled community where Marcus lives and heads his nonprofit Intersection of Change, which provides support for women struggling to overcome drug addiction and which also runs a community arts center, Jubilee Arts. All the tunes on the album capture various aspects of the community—its struggles, its triumphs, its hustle and bustle, and its vitality. Two of the tracks are titled ‘An Intersection of Change,’ with a spoken prelude by one of the community leaders, explaining the challenges faced by the community. The music reflects not just sorrow, but sometimes rage – and even celebration. The album features Marcus on bass clarinet, with fellow Baltimoreans Warren Wolf on vibes, Kris Funn on bass, and Eric Kennedy on drums. Additional performers include Paul Bollenback on guitar and George Colligan on piano. https://open.spotify.com/album/6VFaxyNKuEMF5Ibk4XOVAp?si=bDhSzFXNQTqvF-kfRpdMvg
By Anna Celenza
Anna Celenza is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of several books, including Jazz Italian Style, from Its Origins in New Orleans to Fascist Italy and Sinatra (2017) and The Cambridge Companion to George Gershwin (2019). She’s also published eight children’s books, including Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite. In 2016 Celenza co-founded Music Policy Forum, a non-profit that advises local governments about how to create sustainable music ecosystems.
[i] “LoverMan” was also a bonus track on Baltimore Jazzscapes II, an album produced by the Baltimore Jazz Alliance