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ENTERTAINMENT:

Baltimore's Young Music Fans Move from Hip Hop to Jazz

by LAQUASHA BIVENS
“It’s spectacular. There’s a lot more talent in jazz artists,” said Dan Slanac, a 21-year-old Johns Hopkins University student.
It is a generation whose musical presence has been dominated with images of pop princesses, materialistic rappers, and the most-recent winner of the popular “American Idol” television show. But on a Saturday night in Baltimore, you just may find many of the so-called “Hip Hop Generation” in the smoky haze of your local jazz club.

Small Baltimore jazz clubs are experiencing a resurgence in attendance among an under-30 demographic and have welcomed such diversity.

“This is a place where young and old, black and white can come together to listen to music,” said Gary Covington, a co-manager of the New Haven Lounge jazz club.

Jazz, the truly American genre of music created in the early 1900s that defined generations of youth in the 1920s through the 1960s, is no stranger to the Baltimore community.

Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue was the capital of local jazz from the late 1920s through the 1960s and was the first stop on the famed “Chitlin Circuit,” a popular string of venues in various cities that yielded its stages to the legends of jazz.

Jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Charlie Parker were Chitlin Circuit and Baltimore club regulars in jazz’s reigning years.

The downfall of Pennsylvania Avenue and the closing of its most famous venues—like the extinct Royal Theater—cast a doubtful picture on the future of jazz in Baltimore.

“If [jazz] is going to be as prominent as it used to be, more people have to be exposed to it,” said Lionel Lyles, a young saxophonist and leader of the Lionel Lyles Quintet. “Jazz will be in trouble if we don’t expose our children to it.”

Some Baltimore establishments have been attempting to draw in younger crowds to expose them to jazz by sponsoring programs that cater to young adults.

The New Haven Lounge hosts its Stage Sessions Open Mic every Tuesday night and holds a reggae show every month in hopes that the same audience will trickle in for its live jazz performances every Friday and Saturday night.

Many of Baltimore’s young music lovers prefer to visit jazz establishments over other nightlife venue options. The relaxed atmosphere has most frequently been cited as the main reason many prefer jazz clubs to the rowdier scene of hip hop clubs or sports pubs. The level of talent displayed by jazz artists is another reason why Baltimore’s young people are flocking to local jazz clubs.

“It’s spectacular. There’s a lot more talent in jazz artists,” said Dan Slanac, a 21-year-old Johns Hopkins University student.

Young musicians seeking a future career in jazz also look to Baltimore’s jazz clubs as a source of learning and inspiration.

“I come here to get new ideas,” said Ronald Goodman, a 22-year-old musician and Morgan State University music student. “I learn a lot when I come here.”
To find more information on Baltimore jazz clubs and jazz artists, visit the Baltimore Jazz Alliance’s website at baltimorejazz.com.

Laquasha C. Bivens is a freelance writer who is studying journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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This story was published on July 12, 2006.