Smooth sounds, friendly faces and good times

WILEY A. HALL

December 08, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

Singer Ruby Glover celebrated her 63rd birthday Sunday the way a jazz performer should: surrounded by good food, good people and good music.

We were at the New Haven Lounge, a cozy club in Northwood that is fast becoming one of the in-places for live, straight-ahead, acoustic jazz.

There was an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in the corner: hash browns and sausages, baked apples and biscuits, scrambled eggs and grits, raisin muffins and complimentary champagne to wash it all down.

Folk of all ages were there, blacks and whites, dressed casually or in their Sunday finery, a great, big, joyous extended family -- and like kinfolk, Ms. Glover greeted most of them at the door with a hug and a smile and a kiss on the cheek.

The combo on hand for the occasion had Tony Williams on drums, Michael Bowie on bass, Reuben Brown on piano and Andy Ennis on tenor sax. Bend your ear closer to this newspaper and you can just about hear them: smooth, cool, funky; playing toe-tapping, finger-popping music, the kind of music that makes you nod your head, close your eyes and smile at the wonderfulness of it all. One of the guests, Whitt Williams, rose up from behind a plate of food, got out an alto sax and led the combo in a series of soulful ballads.

"This is the sort of event," says a doorman exultantly, indicating a school-aged youngster sitting with his parents, "that he'll be talking about with his children, saying, 'Yeah, those were the good, old days.'"

As I said, this was a perfect way to celebrate Ms. Glover's birthday. Ruby Glover is a silver-haired, energetic woman, warm and wonderful, and one of the legends of this city's jazz scene. She grew up during the golden days of jazz on Pennsylvania Avenue, and has dedicated her life to keeping the music alive.

"Today," she said after the band's first set, "I celebrate you and I celebrate life. I have been blessed to drink from that wonderful cup called music. I want to thank you, my friends, my extended family, for sharing that music with me. And I want to thank the family of the Covingtons for providing one of the only places you can go, no matter the day or time, to enjoy good jazz."

There's an interesting story there. The Covingtons bought the Haven in Northeast Baltimore at auction some five years ago and have slowly been working it into the sort of place people gravitate to -- a "Cheers" bar with live music.

These Sunday jazz brunches are a good example of what I mean. They are now held on the first Sunday of the month. But church-going patrons complained because the sessions conflicted with communion Sunday. Starting next year, the brunches will be held on the second Sunday.

"We don't know everything," says Helen Covington. "That's why it is very important that we listen to our customers. They are the experts. They are our extended family."

"I really think there's a renaissance developing in Baltimore," Ms. Glover is saying. "I'm beginning to feel a resurgence of the type of electricity that once was so present when Pennsylvania Avenue was alive and viable. It isn't just the music, but the spiritual feeling that goes with it. The music community is starting to come together, like a family, reaching out to one another."

The Haven is one example. Shortly after it opened, a group of young jazz enthusiasts located a spinet piano for the club, asking only that the Covingtons pay the expense of moving and tuning it. Now, customers are rallying to help the club buy a grand piano.

Another example of this renaissance, Ms. Glover says, is on the Avenue, where a new owner reopened the legendary Sphinx Club on Thanksgiving Day. Trading under the name "Papa's Place," the new owners hope to make it a place where people from all stations and walks of life can go to mingle and relax.

But it all revolves around the music, says Ms. Glover.

"Music has always been our primary means of self-expression and communication and nurturing, a way of softening our anger and refocusing our energy. Our young people need this so desperately today. We have got to keep the music alive."

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