When he was a 10-year-old boy living in Falls Church, Va., Barry Glassman was flipping through radio stations looking for doo-wop tunes when he heard something he had never heard before. “I was a precocious sort of kid,” recalls Glassman, now 72, “so I called the radio station and asked, ‘What was that you were playing?’ No one could answer my question, so I kept calling. I said, ‘I’m going to keep calling you until you tell me what that was.’”
As it turned out, the music that made such an indelible impression on young Glassman was a recording by jazz legend Charles Mingus. “I went down to the local record store and I bought it,” he says.
Thus began Glassman’s love affair with jazz.
On Oct. 1, Glassman will see one of his most enduring musical dreams come true when Baltimore holds its very first official jazz festival, the Baltimore Jazz Fest.
The free concert, sponsored by the Baltimore Jazz Alliance, will take place from noon to 8 p.m. at Druid Hill Park near the Howard Peter Rawlings Conservatory.
Glassman, founder of the alliance, has supported the local jazz scene since moving to Baltimore in 1994.
After settling in his adopted city, Glassman, who lives downtown, began looking for places to hear jazz.
“I found one in Pigtown called the Shortstop Lounge. I became a regular there,” he says. “I got to know the musicians and the small crowd that was always around. It occurred to me that there was nowhere in town to find out about where else jazz was happening.”
So in 2001, Glassman decided to create an online jazz calendar.
“It was a lot of work, but more and more people started following it. After a while, I found a [software] program that allowed people to enter their own events.”
By 2004, the calendar was getting about 50 hits a day, Glassman recalls.
“Almost every live jazz event that happens in Baltimore is on the calendar, and as far as I know, there are only two or three calendars like it in the country,” he says. “It’s great for the musicians to be able to post their own gigs.”
In 2004, Glassman assembled about 100 musicians, club owners and fans to discuss forming an organization to promote jazz. Soon after, the Baltimore Jazz Alliance was born. In 2009, the organization became a nonprofit.
“Once we had the 501(c) status, we were able to do more. We had our first board of directors, wrote the organization’s bylaws. Little by little, the organization has grown and become more proactive,” he says.
In addition to maintaining the calendar, the alliance puts out a monthly newsletter. The group of approximately 150 members has produced two CDs – “Baltimore Jazzscapes” and “Baltimore Jazzscapes II” — featuring music by area musicians and composers.
With Loyola University, the alliance has sponsored the Baltimore Composers Forum. The alliance also founded Jazz for Kids, and with a grant from Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, sponsored the Youth Jazz Congress.
Other accomplishments include publication of the “Baltimore Real Book,” which includes 54 compositions by 18 Baltimore jazz artists; the production of a sold-out show called the “Saxophone Colossi”; and a series of big band concerts from 2011 to 2014.
“These projects have all served to further the cause of jazz in Baltimore,” says Glassman.
Though Glassman says Baltimore’s jazz scene is “healthy,” he admits that Charm City is “no Philly or D.C. No one has been able to support a white tablecloth jazz club. Caton Castle has persevered, but they only have jazz on Saturday nights.”
Many of the places that once offered jazz — such as Ethel’s Place, the Left Bank, Buddy’s, Club 2300 — are closed or no longer have jazz, Glassman says.
“I would give anything for a restaurant in town to try to do jazz a couple of days a week. It’s been so long since anyone has tried it,” he says.
Ideally, Glassman would like to see Baltimore’s first jazz festival put Charm City — the birthplace of Eubie Blake, hometown of Cab Calloway and childhood home of Billie Holiday — “back on the jazz map. That hasn’t been true since the days of the Royal Theatre or Left Bank, when every important jazz musician swung through Baltimore.”
Besides his desire to showcase the formidable talent in Baltimore’s jazz community, Glassman also has other aspirations for the Jazz Fest.
“I love Baltimore and I’m frustrated by the city’s tattered image, especially since the Freddie Gray incident,” Glassman says. “I challenge anyone to find a more multi-racial, socioeconomically diverse audience than jazz lovers. We’ll have people from all over, coming together because they love the music.”
The Baltimore Jazz Fest will feature the following acts:
- Dunbar High School Jazz Ensemble led by Charles Funn
- Clarence Ward III All Stars
- Rumba Club
- Greg Hatza ORGANization
- Art Sherrod Jr.
- Michael Joseph Harris and Hot Club Baltimore
- Gypsy Jazz
- “Baltimore Legends,” featuring Tim Harris, Bob Butta, Carlos Johnson, Dave Smith, Bobby Ward, Charles Funn, John Lamkin Sr., Clayton McLendon and Gary Richardson
For information about the Baltimore Jazz Fest, visit http://baltimorejazzfest.com.
Also, check out Baltimore Jazz Fest’s Indiegogo page.
To learn more about Baltimore Jazz Alliance and the Baltimore Jazz Calendar, visit http://baltimorejazz.com.
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