Vernon L. Welsh, 83, veteran, co-founder of Left Bank Jazz Society

August 12, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Vernon L. Welsh, a founder of the Left Bank Jazz Society whose recordings of the society's Famous Ballroom concerts captured some of the greatest names in jazz, died Thursday of dementia at St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation Center in Southwest Baltimore. He was 83.

Mr. Welsh and Benny Kearse, who died in 1999, established the Left Bank Jazz Society in 1964.

The society not only showcased local jazz musicians, but brought such legendary jazz artists as Stan Getz, Julian "Cannonball" Adderly, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Maynard Ferguson to Baltimore, where they performed to sold-out crowds at the Famous Ballroom on Charles Street.

"The names are enough to set the mind in motion," wrote James D. Dilts, a Baltimore writer, in a City Paper profile of the society two years ago.

Mr. Welsh, who had managed the Famous Ballroom and played electric guitar, emceed many of the shows. He also preserved about 800 performances on his reel-to-reel tape recorder.

"During the 1960s and 1970s, Vernon would be sitting there with his back to the audience, wearing a pair of earphones and fiddling with a bunch of dials as he recorded a performance," said Mr. Dilts in an interview. "If it weren't for Vernon and his tape recorder, they wouldn't exist."

He added: "The period when Vernon was doing it wasn't awfully well-documented in Baltimore, and he managed to record and preserve cultural history. As Dizzy Gillespie said, `It's all in the recording, and that's a matter of record.'"

The tapes Mr. Welsh recorded had been stored at the Morgan State University library for years. Veteran record producer Joel Dorn of the Label M record company, who acquired the tapes, has begun reissuing them and they have found favor with critics and jazz aficionados, according to Mr. Dilts.

"People will be stunned by what we've found. ... They open a window to that magical place and time," Mr. Dorn told Down Beat magazine in 2000.

During the 1970s, Mr. Welsh served as host of a jazz show on WBJC-FM in Baltimore.

Michael R. Binksy of Randallstown and his wife, Ruth Binsky, were members of the Left Bank Jazz Society from its earliest days.

"He was dedicated to the music, and it was a big part of his life providing these concerts. He also had an enormous knowledge of jazz," said Mr. Binksy, a merchant seaman and jazz fan.

"He had a good ear for music and used to book a lot of the musicians for the ballroom. He cared about them and how they were treated, so they wanted to play the Famous Ballroom," said Mrs. Binksy, who had served for years as treasurer and secretary of the society.

"He was really a straight-forward bebop person and not too avant-garde, yet he had an open mind and would bring in acts for other folks to enjoy," she said.

Born and raised in Irvington, Mr. Welsh was a graduate of Polytechnic Institute. He briefly worked for Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II. A bomber pilot in Europe, he was discharged in 1945 as a captain.

He studied on the GI Bill at the Catholic University in Washington, earning his bachelor's degree in music in 1950.

For years, Mr. Welsh made his living as an automobile salesman for Thorn Ford in Catonsville and later Archway Ford. He later managed the Famous Ballroom for 15 years before retiring some years ago.

He was a communicant of Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church in Arbutus.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. today at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, Route 40 and St. Agnes Lane in Catonsville.

He is survived by his sister, Mary Coale of Towson; and several nephews and nieces.

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