UncategorizedVenue Review

Jazzway 6004: A Great Gathering. Will There Be More?

It was two days before Christmas. The music, a transformation of ordinary holiday songs, was superb. The audience was elegant, warm, and engaged. The food was delicious and plentiful. It was the first post-pandemic concert at Jazzway 6004—a unique jazz venue in a remarkable private home on a hillside in a secluded, leafy neighborhood on the fringes of the city.

Hopefully, it was the first of many concerts to come. However, according to the concert organizers Howard Katz and Marianne Matheny-Katz, that will depend on finding sponsors to underwrite their programs, because admission charges cover less than half the costs of their remarkable productions. (If you want to help, contact: Marianne Matheny-Katz at m2katz@comcast.net)

Jazzway History

Jazzway 6004 began in 2007, using the street address of the Katz’s home. It provided six to ten concerts a year, featuring a mix of great musicians from Baltimore and elsewhere–all world-class players. The formidable list includes Ethel Ennis, Warren Wolf, Sean Jones, Cyrus Chestnut, Tim Warfield, Craig Alston, and many more.

The events were designed to bring the musicians and their audience together, not only by presenting the performers in a large living room without a raised stage so that audience and musicians were literally in the same space, but also by providing dinner for the musicians and some listeners before the concert and delicious homemade dessert s and snacks for everyone afterwards.

In addition to concerts, Jazzway provided small workshops and some educational material. “Our aim,” Marianne told me, “was create a community to support local and touring jazz musicians, to preserve the traditions of jazz, to foster its trajectory into the future, and to expand the listening audience for jazz for all ages.”

Jazzway 2023

The pandemic, of course, brought all of this to an abrupt halt. Now Jazzway is seeking revival, beginning with the terrific concert they held on December 23, 2023. Their living room was packed with 80 people. There was great energy and friendliness both waiting for the concert to begin and sharing dessert after the concert. And during the concert there was an almost palpable connection between the audience and the players.

Tim Warfield, a reeds player, led a group that included Terrell Stafford on trumpet, Warren Wolf on vibes, Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Rodney Whitaker on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums. They were joined by Georgia Heers, a lovely New York-based singer.

The concert was called “Jazzy Christmas”, but it was more than that. Yes, they played holiday tunes, including ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “Let it Snow”, “Silent Night”, “God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen”, and—for a bit of religious diversity—“The Dreidel Song” . But they didn’t just add a jazzy beat; they transformed all of these songs into jazz compositions of considerable musical depth. The vibes, for example, provided a sense of Christmas bells, but Warren Wolf transcended that. As did Georgia Heers singing Silent Night in a way that created new meaning for an otherwise over-familiar piece of music.

The venue still provides the same inviting ambiance as before the pandemic. “Marianne and Howard welcome guests with warmth …. People mingle and converse with old acquaintances and new ones, both over drinks or dinner before the concert and with desserts afterwards. It just like being at a fun upscale party,” says Liz Fixsen , editor of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance Newsletter.

Warren Wolf, the master vibraphonist who has been a mainstay of the concerts over the years, describes the concerts as “intimate” and very different from typical jazz venues—clubs, restaurants, or concert halls—offering a special connection between players and the audience.

Jazzway’s Future

Howard and Marianne have ambitious hopes for the future of Jazzway. They hope to hold six to eight concerts a year and to add a streaming option. They will also add interviews with musicians. They are hoping to reach a national audience to provide a positive view of Baltimore by, they said, “illustrating its vibrant creative community”. They also hope to participate in or create some small musical festivals in the area. Very importantly, they want to expand music education opportunities for both adults and youth—particularly disadvantaged and underserved youth.

Upcoming concerts include Cuban/Venezuelan pianist and Latin Grammy nominee Cesar Orozco on April 27; Jazzway Anniversary show with vibraphonist Warren Wolf & company with special guest bassist Christian McBride on June 8; Sam Prather and Groove Orchestra on September 14. They are working on booking a show on October 19th as well as a holiday show on Dec. 14. There may be an outdoor concert, possibly on Sunday August 25.

Jazzway 6004’s overriding goal is, as Andrea Wheeler the vice-president of their board put it, “to keep live music alive in Baltimore.” As Marianne told me, “it is to promote a future for jazz that draws from a foundation in jazz tradition but goes beyond.” A future that draws, for example, not just from the Great American Songbook but also from the music that has emerged since. A future that insists that jazz has great musical depth and is not just a display of technical brilliance.”

Marianne and Howard added that their expanded mission will require support of sponsors, donors, and grants. Hopefully, they will get the support they need to realize their vision. If you want to help, contact: Marianne Matheny-Katz at m2katz@comcast.net. (Jazzway is a 501C-3 corporation; contributions are tax exempt to the extent permitted by law.)

–by Michael Friedman

(Michael Friedman is a retired social worker and social advocate who is also a semi-professional jazz pianist and photographer; his photographs of jazz artists are on permanent display at Keystone Korner in Baltimore. The band photos in this article are Friedman’s. He writes occasionally for the Baltimore Jazz Alliance newsletter. www.michaelbfriedman.com)

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