Electrifying and provocative, jazz is a study in contrast, creativity, and American genius. A complex art form with roots in African American culture, jazz came of age in America’s cities, where African American musicians improvised with polyrhythmic percussion and soul-stirring harmonies.
For musicians in Baltimore’s early jazz scene in the 1920s and ‘30s, jazz was an expression not only of instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, piano, and drums but of the body—dance, lyric, and melody were interwoven to tell stories of humor, heartache, and devotion. Jazz has always had a presence in Baltimore; it’s a uniquely American art form in a uniquely American city.
Today the tradition continues. Baltimore is home to artists and musicians who keep the city’s jazz tradition alive. Read on to learn how you can celebrate the culture and history of jazz in Baltimore.
Where to See Jazz in Baltimore
An Die Musik LIVE
409 N. Charles Street
888-221-6170 or 410-385-2638
Voted one of the city’s best venues for jazz, the top floor of this Baltimore music store features a small stage graced by jazz greats and new musicians alike.
Bertha’s Restaurant and Bar
734 S. Broadway
One of Fell’s Point’s best-known seafood spots is all about mussels—and live music, including jazz.
Caton Castle Lounge
20 South Caton Avenue
This authentic jazz haven in southwest Baltimore has been around for more than 25 years. Visit the website for information on upcoming performances.
Cat’s Eye Pub
1730 Thames Street
Since 1975, the Cat’s Eye has been a Baltimore icon. Stop by for jazz and blues on the waterfront. See the website for the band schedule.
3134 Eastern Avenue
For over a decade the Creative Alliance has been organizing and hosting events that connect artists and audiences. Check the year-round schedule for talented local artists and nationally-known names.
300 South High Street
In the upstairs dining room at Germano’s, enjoy a wide range of musical styles including jazz. Tickets are available for purchase online.
10 Art Museum Drive
Located at the sculpture garden at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Gertrude’s features jazz and Chesapeake Bay cuisine during Sunday brunch and throughout the weekend.
For more places and events to find jazz throughout Baltimore, check out BaltimoreJazz.com.
Honoring Jazz Greats and Baltimore Natives
Baltimore was a hot spot of jazz in the 20th century, and is the birthplace of several jazz legends, including Billie Holiday, Eubie Blake and Cab Calloway. You can get even more jazz history at two of Baltimore’s museums dedicated to the contributions of African Americans, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and the Great Blacks In Wax Museum.
Billie Holiday spent her early childhood years in Baltimore. Her presence is celebrated throughout Charm City— on murals and painted screens at Lady Day Way in Fell’s Point (the 200 block of Durham Street), and on the poignant Sankofa mural at Pennsylvania and North Avenues. A bronze statue of Lady Day by Baltimore sculptor James Earl Reid is less than a block from where the historic Royal Theater once stood at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, the fabled performance hall where she performed with other jazz greats during the roaring ’20s.
In 1883, James Hubert Blake was born the son of a former slave. Blake began organ lessons at the age of six. Better known as “Eubie” Blake, the famous pianist and composer met lyricist Noble Sissle, and together they wrote their first Broadway show, "Shuffle Along," in 1921. Baltimore’s Eubie Blake Cultural Center was named after the ragtime legend. Eubie Blake is known to have attended the first free public school for African-American children at Peale Museum.
Legendary bandleader and African-American jazz great Cab Calloway grew up in Baltimore. The consummate performer, Calloway’s scat singing, acrobatic dance moves, and high-energy performances captured the imagination of audiences during his heyday in the 1930s and for generations to come. His trademark refrain (“hi-de-ho”) came from his hit “Minnie the Moocher,” a song which would be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame nearly seven decades later. Calloway’s family keeps his legacy alive through their involvement in music, the arts, and arts education in Baltimore.