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Of smartphones, flugelhorns and a Baltimore sound

Of smartphones, flugelhorns and a Baltimore sound
Japeth Clark plays the fluglehorn. (Courtesy Japeth Clark)

Nobody asked me, but I think smartphone addiction is more severe and more common than we wish to admit. I know from personal experience.

I had a dream the other night that I left my iPhone on a bus headed for upstate New York. I had just stepped off the bus. It was raining. The bus made a wide turn around a pink hotel.

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As soon as I realized I didn't have the phone, I panicked. I dropped my suitcase and ran like a madman toward the bus. I yelled, hoping to get the driver's attention before the bus reached the highway. One of my shoes came off. The bus picked up speed.

Suddenly, unable to bear the stress, I willed myself to wake up. It was midnight. I startled the dog. It took me a few minutes to calm down.

That's how bad it gets, ladies and gentlemen: The prospects of losing one's smartphone now approach the nightmarish.

But enough about me.

It's Japheth Clark who actually lost something of real value on a bus, and it was no dream.

Clark is one of Baltimore's street musicians. He plays the flugelhorn along Pratt Street, sometimes near the Columbus Center, sometimes closer to Harborplace and the Cheesecake Factory.

He's been doing this for six years. He started performing on the street when he was a college student.

By now, Clark claims a repertoire of hundreds of songs. The ones that fill his bucket fast are Pharrell Williams' "Happy," Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk," Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual," and Chuck Mangione's "Feel So Good."

Clark says he plays about 36 hours a week. Busking is his only job, and he says he makes a "decent" living from it.

On a warm day last year, I heard Clark accompany a young female singer, and the pairing was extraordinary. It stopped me in my tracks. As good as it was, I can't remember the song, but Clark says it could have been Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" or Alicia Keys' "Fallin'." The singer was Jordan King, a young woman Clark met years ago in Prince George's County; they reconnected via Facebook last summer and decide to perform together on Pratt Street for a couple of weeks.

I feel lucky to have caught them.

Turns out, the flugelhorn Clark played that day was not the one he plays today. And that's because it was stolen in July on a crowded bus.

It was Artscape weekend, and Clark had just performed off and on over 12 hours near Penn Station. He'd had a good day. The tips were generous. He was on the No. 19, headed home to Parkville. He had his tip bucket, his speaker and batteries. The horn was in its case at his feet.

And then it wasn't.

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"I'm still confused about how it was stolen," Clark says.

Instead of settling into a funk about his loss, he set up a gofundme site, asking for donations to replace the flugelhorn. He had no problem getting donations. In fact, after just a day, with the help of one particularly generous donor, Clark had $1,760, enough to buy a new Carol Brass horn.

One fellow, identified as Kevin Walker, gave Clark $1,500.

His comment: "Hey man, don't give up. Just keep doing what you do, and pay it forward."

Nobody asked me, but that's a pretty good story.

It was Judah Adashi who told me about it first.

Adashi, a composer on the faculty of the Peabody Institute, wrote "Rise," a work for double choir and chamber ensemble that thematically connects the civil rights movement of the 20th century with the protests against the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in the 21st.

Ironically, it was first performed in the District of Columbia on April 19, 2015, the day Freddie Gray died in Baltimore.

"Rise" was to have its Baltimore premiere Tuesday night at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.

The work includes a flugelhorn in its first movement, and I asked Adashi why.

"The instrument I chose," he says, "was inspired somewhat by this young man I drive by very often, a street performer in Baltimore whose name I learned is Japheth Clark.

"When the weather gets nice, he comes out and plays jazz standards beautifully, and that sound was just really in my ear. The flugelhorn is a little different from the trumpet. It's a mellower sound, it's a warmer sound, a melancholy sound. There was something very Baltimore about it for me. So, if Baltimore was at all in the piece, in 'Rise' before Freddie Gray, I think it's in that, in that feeling."

You can hear a sample from Adashi's "Rise," on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/jadashi/rise-invocation. You can catch Japheth Clark and Jordan King on YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FVbB6WyIKoY

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