Tuesday, January 5, 2016

“The Soul of Baltimore”

I mention my hometown of Baltimore not infrequently.  The experience of growing up there has left an indelible impression in ways that I’m still working out, even after thirty-plus years in New York City.  I often speak of my mother, who played organ in nightclubs throughout the city in the early ‘60s. Not jazz clubs but lounges.  With lots of drinking. She was there strictly for the music and to make her living.  But there’s no getting around the fact that the reputation that many of these clubs had was not completely underserved. There was often a criminal element around the edges.  Or at least you didn’t have to go far to find it.  And yet the ways in which the musical and social culture interacted with every other walk of life…religious, workaday, political, educational, you name it…were much more fluid than not.  Boundaries were not always cleanly delineated.

Being a musician afforded me the opportunity to see life from a number of perspectives, sometimes contradictory and confusing, that I don’t think most folks get to experience.  If I was a writer I think I’d try and do a book on Baltimore, from the 50’s or so on up. I may have said this before somewhere, that while in Baltimore it’s hard to imagine anything outside of Baltimore.  And when outside of Baltimore it’s hard to imagine Baltimore as having been a real place, almost having been part of my imagination.  But it’s quite a real place.  And it’s quite unique in my estimation. In looking back there is much to value although while living there I often found a certain kind of frustration with limitations that I could not fully understand.  I sometimes do research on the musical and social fabric of the city. I’m fascinated with history as it was lived on the streets, the kind that does not always find expression in history books chronicling the main events and important figures of past generations.  There were many people who were integral to the culture of Baltimore who’s stories may never be properly told.

And so when I come across something that speaks from this place I like to share it.  Especially when the content resonates directly with what is still happening in Baltimore. The University of Baltimore hosts archival material on line including this WMAR-TV documentary from 1968 called “The Soul of Baltimore”.  It’s a time capsule of sorts in which civil rights activist Walter P. Carter speaks at length on conditions in the city from a number of perspectives. If you can get past some of the narration Mr. Carter goes into some depth in his own words on a range of subjects including the role of jazz in Baltimore.  In fact there are a couple of short excerpts of a live concert from the Left Bank Jazz Society by saxophonist Lee Konitz with Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums (at 5:25 - 6:26 and again at 14:36 - 16:01). He also speaks of Coltrane’s last concert having taken place at the Left Bank.

Here's the link:  “The Soul of Baltimore” 1968

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