A Musical Takeover of Eastport

The Juanito Pascual Trio.

By Kathy Knotts

A “world tour” through Spanish flamenco, sea shanties, klezmer and more is on the way to reignite the region’s passion for jazz and roots music. 

The Annapolis Jazz & Roots Festival comes to various venues around Eastport the first two weekends in November, highlighting not only world music but the role that Chesapeake Bay communities and performers play in jazz and its adjacent interpretations.

“This festival is really a choose-your-own adventure of sorts within Eastport,” says Theresa Sise, a jazz singer and member of the festival’s advisory board. “You can attend a jazz festival anywhere, but this festival celebrates the town it is in, too. It’s designed to bring people to our area and get people exploring downtown Annapolis and Eastport.”

The lineup of musicians represents a diverse style of music and backgrounds, all with a nod to the area’s reputation as being home to great jazz, folk and R&B performers. 

Sise says that, historically, jazz musicians from all over would stop in Annapolis on the way to or from their tour stops in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“When the King of France Tavern in the historic Maryland Inn was hosting jazz performers, Annapolis was known by musicians all over the world,” she says. The tavern became a hotspot for jazz thanks to efforts by Paul Pearson and Charlie Byrd. Byrd also served as artistic director of the Annapolis Jazz Festival at St. John’s College until 1996. After the festival ended, smaller venues filled the void.

 In 2020, Harvey Lewis Stein of H.L.S. Enterprises in Eastport decided to reinstate a festival dedicated to jazz, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed those plans. He appointed Paulina Phillips as executive director and they met with Mayor Buckley, Brian Callahan and cultural leaders who welcomed the return of an Annapolis jazz festival. An advisory board was formed and Artistic Director Mark Wade was engaged. The festival moves forward under the umbrella of the non-profit organization U Empower of Maryland

The 2022 festival features nine events, two ticketed and the rest are free. The music venues are the Peerless Rens Club, Eastport United Methodist Church, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The two associated lectures will take place at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Library.

The festival kicks off with two shows on November 4 by Hot Club of Baltimore at the historic Peerless Rens Club. The club is one of the few remaining Black social clubs in the region. “This is a really special location,” adds Sise.

Michael Joesph Harris leads the Hot Club of Baltimore

Author Vince Leggett will share his knowledge of historic Black beach venues of Greater Annapolis at a lecture at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Library Nov. 5. The Beaches hosted national entertainers in the days of segregation and have been widely celebrated as a monument to Black entrepreneurship. After the lecture, guests can head to Spa Creek for the popular annual event, the Tug of War between the Maritime Republic of Eastport and the City of Annapolis.

Guitar in hand, modern-day Chesapeake troubadour Jefferson Holland will sing original Chesapeake Bay songs and historic sea chanteys Nov. 6 at Eastport UMC. Expect a lively performance from a witty wordsmith, say organizers.

The following weekend, Unified Jazz Ensemble appears at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. with special guest Sarah Larsen, playing classic jazz from the 1930s and ‘40s. This will be a full circle moment for the band. After a decade of touring, Unified Jazz made their first area appearance in 1996, in the last year of the Annapolis Jazz Festival. 

On Nov. 12, Dr. Jessica Floyd presents a lecture on Sea Chanties in the Great Age of Sail at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Library. Following the lecture, festival goers can hear music by long-time Ray Charles vocalist Renée Collins Georges and Georjazz. The former Raelette will share her southern roots in a rousing performance of New Orleans jazz at Eastport UMC. 

Music lovers get a double dose of jazz on Sun. Nov. 13.  St. Luke’s Episcopal Church hosts the 27th Street Klezmer Band in a free performance. Led by guitarist Kristoffer Belgica, the band plays traditional Jewish klezmer music of Eastern Europe and stylistically related show and folk tunes. Leaving the show, concert goers can walk two blocks north to Eastport UMC for the last concert of the weekend. 

The finale of the festival, guitarist Juanito Pascual and his trio offer a blend of traditional and contemporary flamenco with influences ranging from Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead to Miles Davis and J.S. Bach. Pascual’s career has taken him from the streets of Madrid to the hallowed halls of the New England Conservatory and concert stages around the globe. Prior to the pandemic, the trio performed a sold-out show at Maryland Hall and received a standing ovation. The musicians had barely left the stage when former director Linnell Bowen enthusiastically rushed forward to invite their return. This performance marks that long-awaited return. 

“We are very excited to have him performing in our festival,” says Sise. “If you could imagine a flamenco guitarist playing jazz, pop, and rock, with a touch of Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles, you can imagine the mind-blowing level of his musicianship.”

The Annapolis Jazz & Roots Festival is supported by Annapolis Art in Public Places Commission (AiPPC), Anne Arundel County Public Library & Foundation, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Maryland State Arts Council, Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County and Visit Maryland, City of Annapolis. Presenting partners are Alkebulan and Jazz Beyond Borders.

Tickets for Hot Club of Baltimore and Juanito Pascual Trio are $25. All other events are free but do require RSVP with the venue. Times, venues, tickets, and details at: annapolisjazzandrootsfestival.com.