What can be said for a year that began with so much promise but ends, well, like we are all feeling stuck in an alternate dimension. Looking back on my calendar which went so off the rails after two and a half months in, it really does look like a glimpse into a world that should have been but one that’s now alternate history.
But even in this bizarro world of COVID-19 there was some great music created at homes, online, socially distanced, and even on the streets! There is nothing that can beat the feel of a crowded show, the thrill of being there, and the joyous exhaustion that follows, but this past year we saw people pulling together – giving what they could – to keep live music alive despite every roadblock tossed in its way.
Since these lists are often limited by “best of” or Top 10, I want to include, well, all of those performances I caught this past year. There weren’t many, but each one I relive when I hear a song from a brilliant artist I’ve seen or go through photos from the past year. Here are my Top 12 Musical Moments of 2020 in chronological order.
Eze Jackson performs as part of the Creative Alliance’s Sidewalk Serenades on July 4, 2020. (Photo by David LaMason)
On a hot afternoon recently, right outside of my house in East Baltimore, the amazing Eze Jackson gave a spirited Sidewalk Serenade.
Sidewalk Serenades is a program through the Creative Alliance in Baltimore that helps local musicians provide socially distanced performances as a way to provide a vital line from artists to audience in the age of COVID-19. But it has the added benefit of highlighting the best musical artistry in and around Baltimore. And Eze Jackson is certainly one of the best.
There is such a rich variety of music throughout both Baltimore and DC, but it’s a rare thing to find places that are so in love with the arts that the place itself becomes part of that artistic experience.
Baltimore’s Creative Alliance, which formed back in 1995, has become a vital force in East Baltimore, expanding into the old Patterson Theater (itself over 100 years old) back in 2003 right when I, myself, moved into the neighborhood.
Stephane Wrembel performs at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore on Feb. 21, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock)
If Django Reinhardt could somehow return to this planet, he very well might blush to see so many music festivals taking place in his name. There’s little doubt, however, that he’d be pleased by the simple fact that gypsy jazz — a style that he’s credited with creating — lives on in the form of musicians who celebrate the craft and teach it in a communal fashion.
And if the late Mr. Reinhardt was to identify a leader among those carrying his torch, it would likely be Stephane Wrembel, a French guitarist of otherworldly talent who recently performed in Baltimore as part of the Creative Alliance’s fifth annual Charm City Django Jazz Fest.
Xylouris White entrances at the Creative Alliance on March 1, 2018. (Photo by David LaMason)
Almost immediately after you see George Xylouris (laouto, Cretan lute) and Jim White (drums), you get the feeling they are two halves of the same whole. As the story goes, Jim met George back in 1990 in a bar in Australia but didn’t start recording and really touring together until 2013. And to a degree that friendship, built over decades, is the fuel for Xylouris White as we saw in a harmonious performance on Thursday at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson Theatre in Baltimore.
Samson Schmitt Quartet perform at 3rd Annual Charm City Django Jazz Fest at the Creative Alliance at The Patterson Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, on Feb. 24, 2018. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
For aficionados of manouche, gypsy, or swing jazz, we know that the musical form inspired by Jean “Django” Reinhardt isn’t all flash and speed. Of course, there is that — but the music inspired by the French jazz master consists of highly accessible, melodic arrangements with an ebb and flow all their own. That accessibility was on full display Saturday night at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance at The Patterson Theater during the 3rd Annual Charm City Django Jazz Fest.
Greek singer and lute player George Xylouris and Australian drummer Jim White together are known as Xylouris White, and the duo released their third album, Mother, on Jan. 19 via Bella Union. The duo will soon tour the United States with a date in Baltimore at the Creative Alliance at The Patterson on Thursday, March 1.