Venue Review

Keystone Korner, a Pillar of the Baltimore Jazz Community

In Baltimore City, Keystone Korner is operated by NEA Master Todd Barken, chef Robert Wiedmaier and their dedicated team. The venue provides an atmosphere that satisfies night lifer’s searching for fine quality of food and entertainment. Mr. Barken is dedicated to promoting jazz in Baltimore by spotlighting internationally known entertainers as well as the scores of local talents. 

For the current year alone, Keystone Korner operated eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days not including holidays. The organization produces six shows a week, 52 weeks a year, with an array of musical talent and genres. Although change hasn’t been easy for the club known for bringing top jazz recording artists to Baltimore, the club is still thriving. Keystone Korner’s calendar is booked well into 2024 with Christmas shows, international jazz acts, straight-ahead jazz ensembles, jam sessions, local school and art performances, live Go Go music, choirs from Africa, performances with music and tap dancing, rhythm and blues acts, etc. 

Mr. Barken shared a little history about Keystone Korner. It was bought and opened in San Francisco for $12,500 in 1972. Alphonzo Mouzon helped launch Keystone as a bonafide world class jazz club.  Keystone Korner concert series started in San Francisco that year with a one-dollar beer minimum and a three-dollar entry fee. There were two additional locations, in New York City and Houston. 

At this time, Mr. Barken’s intention is to expand the current activities at Baltimore’s Keystone Korner to a larger venue such as Morgan State University. A special holiday “birth concert” was gekd on December 20th at the Morgan State University Murphy Fine Arts Center. It featured Grammy winner and Jazz Times Best New Artist vocalist Samara Joy and three generations of her family, the McLendan family. This was Todd Barkan’s first major concert produced in Baltimore, and others are to come.

The club’s success doesn’t come without change and challenges. Even three years after COVID struck, more people find home to be safe and convenient these days. There is a lack of interest in going to live events because of the COVID-19 concerns. Also, a challenge is getting the message out that the Keystone Korner, located in Harbor East,  is in one of the safest areas in Baltimore to visit despite the negative imagery of Baltimore City. To address this issue, the Baltimore Jazz Alliance is planning “BJA Night out,” an initiative to encourage people to come out in groups, receiving a discount at the Keystone Korner and other clubs.  {Follow the Baltimore Jazz Alliance website for more information.)

There is a lot of fine music being promoted at Keystone Korner. Baltimore City is fortunate to have this and other full-time venues that provide entertainment on this level, in addition to supporting the music community in the Baltimore area. The venues need your support. Get out and enjoy, and spread the news by word of mouth. As Todd Barkan says, “If you take care of the music the music will take care of you.”

–By Steve Everette

Steve Everette, MBA, has been a BJA board member for 10 years. He loves the bass guitar. Steve is the founder and owner of the Business Concepts Group (BCG) LLC productions.

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