Capital can handle football and music


June 18, 2000|By NORRIS WEST

WHEN MY alma mater brings its football team to Annapolis to beat Navy, I'll expect some hospitality from the city.

If not hospitality, at least tolerance.

On Sept. 2, my Temple Owls will kick off their season with a victory over the Midshipmen. It will be a good day of tailgating and football.

But other football fans and I will not come quietly.

To reach the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, I'm sure I'll contribute to the clogged roads that Navy football games invariably bring. And though I expect the disappointed home crowd to be quiet, the stadium will make some noise every now and then. After the game, cleanup crews will have their usual, busy jobs of picking up containers, cups and other litter that fans are certain to deposit.

Annapolis can deal with the traffic, noise and trash. I'm sure of this because the city deals with the Terrible Three intrusions at five Naval Academy football games and tailgating parties each year.

Year in and year out.

So it's hard to convince me that the city cannot handle two days of contemporary jazz that features some of the softest modern music around.

Although the audience for the two-day Capital Jazz Fest was in a mellow, peaceful mood -- which is not always the case at football games -- neighbors complained like it was something they'd never seen before.

I'm not defending the performance because I like contemporary jazz. (Or, as I usually say: "You call that jazz?") Groups like Spyro Gyra are too light, too hollow, too quiet for my taste. I prefer listening to John Coltrane CDs and enjoying the heavy, rich, full throttle of real jazz flowing from Trane's tenor and soprano saxophones.

I bought Ronnie Laws albums years ago, mostly because I liked his former group, but I consider contemporary jazz to be contemporary elevator music. Or fluff jazz. Or jazz lite. What I like doesn't matter. The genre has plenty of fans, including my wife and the 40,000 people who attended the jazz festival.

The multiracial assemblage of performers at the festival included pianist Bob James, saxophonist Boney James, singer Jon Lucien, guitarist Ronny Jordan, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and the group Hiroshima.

I didn't attend the festival. And because I don't live in the neighborhood, I have no idea how loud the music got.

But Ward 6 Alderwoman Cynthia Carter did attend and says the noise wasn't as loud as critics say. And I know that we're talking about George Benson, not George Clinton.

The attendance was good enough to make the event an unqualified success on paper. But residents complained that the Saturday and Sunday concerts were too loud, caused too much traffic and left too much trash.

Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson followed the crowd of complaints by banning the jazz festival from the city. He labeled the event an experiment that failed. He said he no longer will issue permits for such events.

But that's not problem-solving. His outright ban was hasty and reactionary. And he forgot that experiments often require some trial and error before the chemistry works out just right.

Mayor Johnson should reconsider his jazz festival ban. The attendance proves that the area has a lot of contemporary jazz fans. He should experiment some more before even thinking about shutting out the audience, which was mostly African-American. Surely he can accommodate jazz fans in a workable setting and also take care of constituents within earshot of the stadium.

A chief complaint was that the concerts ran too late.

Each night, the bands stopped playing at 10 p.m., about the time Temple will wrap up its victory against Navy.

There should be room for compromise here. Ending the concerts an hour or 1 1/2 hours earlier could disturb fewer bedtimes and make the event more palatable for residents.

Not that things were bad. Annapolis Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson called the audience "very orderly and well-behaved," saying parking and traffic were the only problems.

The local NAACP believes the complaints and the mayor's reaction to them have little to do with trash, traffic and noise but everything to do with race. Ninety-five percent of the jazz festival's audience was African-American.

Mayor Johnson will add weight to the NAACP's case if he sticks with his decision to ban the event instead of experimenting with a solution that could work as well for well-behaved music fans as it does for rowdy football fans.

It's time for the mayor to show leadership.

Norris West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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