Left Bank ’66: Rediscovering Baltimore jazz legends

No one ever said it takes a village to make a jazz album, but that approach can do the trick, as demonstrated by a collaboration between Baltimore Jazz Alliance and the historic Left Bank Jazz Society.

A recording of Baltimore’s hottest show on one cold January night in 1966 spent 45 years in the care of Left Bank members. It was kept dry, dark, and safe for decades.  Then it needed six hours baking in the heat of an oven, before it could be gingerly unspooled, respooled, and played on a vintage reel to reel machine.

At long last, a “new” album featuring Mickey Fields, Walter Namuth, and three other Baltimore jazz greats was released on October 27 at the Caton Castle.

The fact that it happened at all is due to the efforts of a passionate, diverse group of jazz lovers.

The first link in the chain was Vernon Welsh, a Left Bank founder who recorded all of the Society’s shows, and did so with great clarity and ears. The next link–Left Bank comrades who kept the recording safe, and John Fowler and other board members who agreed to publish the music in collaboration with BJA. In upstate New York, David Schwartz used his vintage reel-to-reel machines to digitize the recording, after he baked the tape so it wouldn’t stick together. A big thanks goes to Baltimore-bred, New York-based sax player Ellery Eskelin for helping to identify tunes.

Family members of the musicians were an invaluable aid to the project, offering enthusiastic support, along with photos of their beloved relatives, all of whom have passed on.

Those thanks go to Linda Swain, niece of Phil Harris, Bob Munson, step-brother of Walter Namuth, Moira Namuth, wife of Walter, Grace E. Rice, wife of Purnell Rice, and last but not least, Mickey Fields’ family–his wife Connie, daughter Jackie, grand-daughter Danielle and great-grandson Christopher. A more generous and kind group of people couldn’t be imagined.

Grace Rice and Connie Fields enjoy the album release party.

Next came a one-month fund-raising period on social funding website Kickstarter, where jazz fans donated large and small amounts alike to make the album a reality, from places like South Korea, Luxembourg, Estonia, Switzerland, Australia, Belgium and of course the United States. Kickstarter donor Andrew Carrig helped identify the song “The Gypsy.” Proud Maryland donors were key to surpassing the funding goal and putting the CD out.

The night of the release, Robert Shahid’s band played a scorching set, Ron Scott and Leslie Imes were gracious hosts at the Caton Castle, and the crowd gave a warm welcome to the families of the musicians. Thanks to BJA leaders including Mark Osteen, Bob Jacobson, Barry Glassman, and the one-of-a-kind Camay Calloway Murphy, who all generously offered counsel through the course of the project.

Since the release night, there’s been talk of future collaborations between BJA and Left Bank to preserve, if not commercially release, more of Left Bank’s treasure trove of Baltimore Jazz. Stay tuned.

The CD is available on CDBaby.com, iTunes and Amazon.com.

Thanks again to everyone,
Eliot Caroom
Executive producer, Left Bank ’66
December 2013

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