JAZZ, THE MUSIC many consider America's singular cultural contribution to the world, has a grand association with Maryland and, in particular, Baltimore. Not only has the city been home to legends such as Chick Webb, Cab Calloway and Eubie Blake, it continues to produce stylistic talent that other artists wish to emulate, including singer Ethel Ennis and keyboardist Cyrus Chestnut.
Given local jazz history, it's hard to believe it wasn't until 1995 that the Baltimore Jazz Foundation was started. Now that the organization exists, it deserves public, corporate and philanthropic support to fulfill its mission of preserving that history and encouraging young musicians to continue the performance of that distinctive art form.
There have been other local musician-developed groups with the same idea, the Interracial Jazz Society of the 1950s, which spawned the Left Bank Jazz Society, for example. Their emphasis on performance, however, hurt them as Baltimore's audiences for live jazz dwindled. The new foundation should have visible links to those predecessors, which made sure jazz preservation was a multi-ethnic endeavor.
Performance will still be central to the foundation, a component of which is the Baltimore Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece ensemble of some of the area's best jazz musicians. But the foundation also wants to participate in educational forums that will expose children to jazz music, provide music scholarships and commissions for young composers, and maintain a jazz library of arrangements and transcriptions.
Jazz in Baltimore deserves greater recognition. Given recent developments that include the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts' elevation of its Jazz Department to the same status provided the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, it would not be unthinkable to consider an association between the Jazz Foundation and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or the Peabody Institute.
Government should find ways to bring into Maryland's public schools the immense musical knowledge and exposure to jazz that the Baltimore Jazz Orchestra can provide. Government can also help locate a repository for the library that the foundation envisions. Jazz is America's music. It is Baltimore's music. Supporting the foundation will help keep jazz alive.
Pub Date: 10/19/96