A jazz dream has come true

Lecturer brings music festival to Morgan State

July 12, 2002|By Colleen Freyvogel | Colleen Freyvogel,SUN STAFF

In the frosty month of January, when thoughts drift to sunshine and spring flowers, musician F. Vattel Cherry was planting the seeds of a jazz festival for Baltimore.

Never mind that he'd never organized a festival before, didn't know who would agree to play, didn't know where he'd hold it and didn't have any money to pay for it. Cherry, a musician since age 6, knows how to improvise.

And tonight at Morgan State University, his dreams for a Harmonic Baltimore Festival become reality, bringing avante-garde, free improvisation, free jazz and plenty of new music to the masses. Performers will include Cherry, Brother Ah, Paul Murphy, Toshi Makihara and more.

Cherry, an adjunct lecturer at Morgan and a veteran on the Baltimore, Washington and New York jazz scenes, saw a need to expose local musicians to other styles, players and to a larger audience. "My hope for the musicians in Baltimore is to have no fear [of laboring in obscurity]," Cherry says.

"The days of being discovered are over. You have to discover yourself and your own opportunities. I want to bring a wider audience to this music."

He saw a jazz festival as a way to present adventurous and stimulating music that would provoke new ideas and perhaps attract those new listeners.

Sounds good. But first he had to build a bridge.

Cherry, focused on the double bass since age 16, began his career in the DC Youth Music Orchestra program, earned a full scholarship to Howard University, where he majored in music education, and later studied at the Manhattan School of Music. Along the way, he had made many friends and acquaintances. So, when the idea for Harmonic Baltimore hit him, he picked up the phone.

Cherry says choosing the musicians was the easiest part. He invited people whom he respected and who he felt deserved wider recognition.

Brian Kooken, guitar player and founder of the jazz band L3, found out about the festival when he was working on a CD with Cherry and Greg Thompkins. He didn't have to think too long before saying yes.

"[Cherry] called me, and I played for him," Kooken says. "He enjoyed my music and wanted to know if I wanted to play for this festival. There aren't places in Baltimore that you can play free jazz music, so this festival will be totally different, and it is very exciting to have a place to do this."

Added Lafayette Gilcrhist, Cherry's longtime friend who will be performing tomorrow night, "This is another effort to build and stretch the music scene in Baltimore as well as the social scene. Every time you perform, it is in the spirit of wanting to communicate. This will be an opportunity to have an experience with fellow musicians and with the audience all at once."

Cherry was able to reserve space at Morgan State's Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center because of his position at the university, and he was also able to get the university radio station, WEAA, involved.

"The Lord helps those who help themselves," Cherry says.

He applied for grant money from different groups in Baltimore, but was repeatedly denied due to his lack of experience in producing festivals.

Understanding but undeterred, he began asking people he knew for contributions, with donations ranging from $25 to $1,000, and many of the performers helped out by lowering appearance fees. Cherry expects ticket sales to make up the difference. Volunteers will staff the ticket booth as well as addbackstage help.

"This whole thing has been a miracle," Cherry says. "Everything I have asked for has happened, and I am not taking any of it for granted. I know how good I have it."

He said the response to concert notices has already been so great that the festival has been moved into a larger venue, one which Cherry says will accommodate 2,500 people.

"This is so badly needed in the music scene in Baltimore," says Calvin Tullos of L3. "The list of music is top quality, and it is a tremendous start. The music will be fabulous, and it will be something that can keep developing."

Don't bet against it. Even if the Harmonic Baltimore Festival isn't perfect this time around, Cherry will keep right on improvising.

Harmonic Baltimore

Where: Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center, Morgan State University

When: 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow

Admission: $12 ($8 for students) or $20 for a two-night pass, available only at the Murphy Center

Contact: www.harmo nicbaltimore.org

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