Considering Baltimore’s Music Scene by Jordannah Elizabeth
The pressure of writing the first words of a column is making this sentence much more crucial than I anticipated. This doesn’t negate the fact that words must be typed onto digital paper to attempt to convey a personal expression that should carry some sort of existential purpose, and if not that, the simple weight of being entertaining on a weekly basis.
As a new member of the team, I attended the BmoreArt Magazine launch party last week. I brought my bandmate Miles Gannett along (he was surprisingly well dressed for the occasion), after realizing I’d double booked band rehearsal. He followed me as I gazed around the room, looking to hug and hold friends.
The first person I greeted was the DJ, Jessica Hyman, better known as Trillnatured. She’s a lovely young musical genius who entertained what appeared to be Baltimore’s elite artist class, all mingling at The Walters Art Museum in celebration of BmoreArt’s beautiful third print issue.
I briskly moved through the busy party and greeted Jermaine Bell, Elissa Moorhead, and mistook a man for journalist Bret McCabe. I finally saw Joyce J. Scott glowing, surrounded by black female curators who had pretty skin and teeth. Ms. Scott gave me a hug and immediately noted the large gap between my teeth as I smiled at her.
She pointed to the gap in her teeth and asked me, “Do you know what this means?” I replied that I did not. She said, “It means success.”
To be honest, all I wanted to do was stand in her presence, but I had to speak, as it is socially expected at parties. I quietly announced that I was a writer and new columnist at BmoreArt, to explain my reasoning for standing before her, and I smiled and hugged everyone she introduced me to, which was an honor. Truthfully, I just wanted to bask in her glow, admiring her kindness and living energy.
Finding myself surrounded by several accomplished female curators and gallery owners of many creeds (as other women began to float towards Joyce as I spoke with her), I am ashamed to admit it but I barely felt worthy to be there. I am sure she and others would admonish me for confessing this as I was gracefully embraced, and experienced not one ounce of ego or alienation from any of the women. I learned in those short moments that I have so much more to do in this life.
Photo by Matthew Fowle
The fact of the matter is that Baltimore and music are two subjects that sit buried in the depths of my DNA. I was born in Baltimore City in 1986. I’ve been singing in choirs, taking music lessons, and listening to music since I was four years old. Baltimore and music have shaped who I am as an adult.
I grew up out of Northwest Baltimore and became an author, music critic, independent talent buyer, A&R, and touring musician. I also speak as a commentator on feminist and civil rights issues in the United States. I’ve been able to write over 200 articles exploring music, art, always looking into the minds of those who are masters of their craft. I’ve written over 100 articles for New York Amsterdam News as an entertainment reporter and have contributed to eight alternative weekly papers including Village Voice, LA WEEKLY, SF WEEKLY, and Baltimore City Paper.
I’ve done a lot, I’ve been all over the world playing music and lecturing about diversity in music criticism and women and African Americans in Experimental Music. There’s a long and windy story that is rife with small and large failures and triumphs in regards to my writings and my work. And after 13 years of struggling, serving, entertaining, analyzing, educating and learning, I sit before this word processor about to begin a new journey with BmoreArt.
My goal is introduce you all to the brilliance that is Baltimore’s music and arts community from my perspective, which is unique and doused with diversity. I study and document American and International Alternative music – experimental, avant garde, soul, psychedelia, shoegaze, anti folk, ect. I travel all over the world to hear great music, but I have to say, Baltimore is my favorite music scene on the planet.
The artists in Baltimore are passionate, eccentric, competitive, exploratory, fiercely intelligent, and true individuals. There are no carbon copies here.
The way to be the best in Baltimore is to be the rarest, the strangest, the loudest and most artistic, unlike cities like Los Angeles where the Sunset Strip is entrenched with band after band who wear the same outfits and haircuts, and play the same guitar riffs. Not here.
Some of our heads are shaved, some covered in locs, some half-shaved and half-covered in dreadlocks dyed green. Some of us are in our 60s, some are 21. Some are black, some white, asian, biracial – some love drugs, some are straight-edge, some eat meat and milkshakes, others are vegan. Some only love men, others women, some of us love everything that walks. But everyone has a philosophy, a declaration and an interdisciplinary talent that outshines many of the world’s best musicians.
This column is called Sound Grammar after the Ornette Coleman album. Coleman is a crux of black avant garde and experimental music, jazz, life, composition, style, truth, and inspiration. I am not going to try and make this column reflect all that fabulousness, but I am going to do my best to enter every entry with sincerity – and hopefully every week you will feel connections on many levels. There will be music, interviews, music book reviews and thoughts on culture, social justice and the local arts community.
Send me letters. Tell me who you’d like to learn more about and I will stalk them… I mean, track them down and get them to chat with me. [email protected]
A small portion of the books from my “writer’s lair.”
With that said, here are five local albums for you to dig into…they are albums I’ve personally been enjoying.
Strange Times People Band
I implore you not to be skeptical by these music selections. I believe strongly that all artists in Baltimore City are completely valid.
We’re going to go far out and I am going to get into some intellectual blathering that will seem appropropriate at the moment. I look forward to this journey and I hope the column lasts for many moons as Baltimore deserves and outlet and someone to champion this city’s music and arts community on as many have done before me.
Welcome to Sound Grammar.
Author Jordannah Elizabeth is an author, music and arts critic, editor and folk soul musician. She is the founder and director of the literary nonprofit organization, Publikprivate.org and the author of a “Don’t Lose Track Vol 1: 40 Articles, Essays and Q&As” published by Zero Books. Follow her @lovejordannah.
Top photo by Breck Brunson.