Once I was at a party and heard a man declare that live music was dead. As a touring musician and concert organizer, I had to interject. “No it isn’t! There are shows happening all the time!”
“Then tell me where I can go see some live jazz tonight,” the man challenged me.
I was stumped. I loved jazz, but I was more tapped into Baltimore’s underground and experimental music scene, so I couldn’t give him a good answer. Our debate left me curious. But soon after our exchange, the pandemic began and brought everything to a standstill. The music industry took a huge hit, but live music wasn’t dead. Comatose, perhaps. Musicians and music lovers were just waiting for circumstances to shift, knowing there would be a live music revival.
Baltimore musician Ed Hrybyk felt the impact not only as a performer but as a jazz teacher. A Baltimore School for the Arts 2006 graduate, Hrybyk returned as a jazz instructor in 2018. He frequently attended jazz jams with his students so that they could work on their chops. “The traditional model has been to play in a bar on an off night,” Hrybyk explained, meaning a Monday or Tuesday, during a musician’s weekend. But in 2020, “we went from 3-4 jams a week to ZERO. Online jam sessions were hilarious… nothing worked.”
During the pandemic, he spent over a year conducting virtual lessons. “I was in my basement, they were on the other side of the screen,” he recalls. “Teaching jazz to pretty accomplished high schoolers without actually playing jazz with them was a real challenge. Now I can do that pretty well with guitar, bass, trombone, saxophone, but I struggled with the drummers. It’s the middle of the day, everybody’s home, their parents are doing work at home, their siblings are at home, how can I get them to play?”
The answer was to get out of the basement, off of the screen, and somewhere in person. In September 2020, Hrybyk took a downsized drum kit to a local park and told his drumming students to show up with sticks. What began as a jam opportunity for his students eventually transformed into a solid music series – The Baltimore Jazz Jam, every Tuesday in a city park – weather permitting.