Sign up for our newsletters    

Baltimore City Paper home page.

All That, uh, Jazz

July 2, 2007
By

We here at Baltimore’s Most Silent Tongues- and Creative Orchestra Music 1976-Loving Alternative Weekly freely admit we play fast and loose with the term “jazz,” that spicy nounverbadjective that insouciantly alludes, describes, and/or identifies our distinctly American music. We might apply it to people who don’t want it, musicians who would prefer anything more avant-garde sounding, but, hey, we figure if it’s a close enough term for Roscoe Mitchell to refer to his wide varieties of music, then it’s good enough for us. He’s much smarter and more talented, so we’ll go with what he says.

Which brings us to the PAETEC Jazz Festival Baltimore-the Merrill Lynch-sponsored “jazz” festival taking over the Inner Harbor this August with the cooperation of the City of Baltimore. Today an electronic press release arrived announcing the lineup for the 20 free concerts taking place during the festival’s Thursday, Aug. 9, to Sunday, Aug. 11, run, in addition to the headliners: slightly less smooth jazz than Kenny G saxophonist Boney James appearing with special guest South African singer/songwriter Jonathan Butler; bluesman B.B. King; living legend Etta James; funk firebrand Earth, Wind, and Fire; and Al Green, who played a wonderful free show at Artscape 2003.

To be honest, we’re floored to see some locals on the bill-and not because they don’t deserve to be. It’s just been our experience that whenever an outside company with corporate pockets comes in to stage a city festival, local outfits often receive the short shrift. So congrats Lafayette Gilchrist, Rumba Club, Todd Butler Group, Fertile Ground, Eubie Blake Legacy Big Band, and, yes, even the Bridge. (For the record, the Michael Thomas Quintet is based in Washington suburb Wheaton, not Baltimore.)

It is, though, the inclusion of the Bridge that furrows the brow. Nothing against the band at all–hey, we’re all for the popular local beatbox-powered jam-fusion band taking a night off from the 8X10-it’s just that it’s stretching the idea of “jazz” even further than Medeski, Martin, and Wood do. And such elasticity extends throughout PAETEC’s other shows: acid-funk outfit Soulive, Pittsburgh’s ethnomusicological Grateful Dead-journeyman Rusted Root, the Dweezil Zappa-led tribute act Zappa Plays Zappa, New Orleans jam funk outfit Bonerama, and Texas’ straight-up blues rock/rockabilly outfit the Fabulous Thunderbirds–none of which play jazz even in the kinda/sorta way.

And then there is the little matter of a Canadian (?!?) fusion outfit named Shuffle Demons playing not one but two sets Aug. 10. Now, we don’t know about you, but we like to assume that when Baltimore thinks of jazz-holla Harold Adams, Hank Baker, Gary Bartz, Eubie Blake, Jackie Blake, Bill Byrd, Blanche Calloway, Cab Calloway, Dennis Chambers, Cyrus Chestnut, Ron Diehl, Andy Ennis, Ethel Ennis, Ellery Eskelin, Mickel Fields, Ruby Glover, Mark Gross, Carl Grubbs, Winard Harper, Antonio Hart, Billie Holliday, Tamm E. Hunt, Vance James, Carlos Johnson, Fuzzy Kane, Ellis Larkins, O’Donel Levy, Cornell Muldrow, Tim Murphy, Kevin Robinson, Gary Thomas, Greg Thompkins, Kim Walker, Chick Webb, Whitt Williams, Earl Wilson, Dontae Winslow–what it envisions isn’t five white guys from Toronto.

Boy, howdy: A communications provider sure knows how to throw a party.