When Baltimore native LaRian Finney surveyed the entertainment options available to his hometown's young black residents, he noticed something -- or, more accurately, nothing.
In his mind, the city's late-'90s scene didn't offer much of anything that would interest hip and professional African-Americans. And something, Finney thought, had to be done.
The event promoter says he heard a lot of people talk about the fact that there was nothing to do in Baltimore. "I thought there was a void."
With that realization, Finney, the entrepreneur behind locally based Visionary Marketing Group, conceived and planned Baltimore's first Jazzy Summer Nights concert series.
The annual event, now in it's fifth year, kicks off again tonight, when celebrated Philadelphia trombonist Jeff Bradshaw plays for a crowd at the War Memorial Plaza at City Hall.
Finney's series, a showcase for national and regional jazz and soul acts, began as a joint effort with the Downtown Partnership's First Thursday program.
But as the events' popularity grew, so did its need for a larger space and an individual identity.
With a move four years ago from Charles Plaza to the expansive War Memorial Plaza, Jazzy Summer Nights broke out on its own and now attracts about 5,000 people to each performance.
"We've been rolling since then," says Finney, who, after a successful half-decade run, says his creation has become something that local "African-Americans can kind of mark their calendars and look forward to every month."
The series' focus on well-known acts is undoubtedly part of the appeal -- locally based, nationally known soul/jazz outfit Fertile Ground and vocalist Frank McComb are among the acts headlining this summer's schedule of open-air shows.
And though Finney's initial target market was the city's young black community, the 38-year-old notes that his entertainment picks -- and the events' laid-back vibes -- have begun to draw a more diverse crowd.
Today, the goal of Jazzy Summer Nights is to promote "something that can appeal to black, white, young, old," he says.
"Just good music" is what it's all about.
Jazzy Summer Nights kicks off at 5:30 p.m. today at the War Memorial Plaza at City Hall. Admission is free. The plaza is at Fayette and Gay streets. Jazzy Summer Nights' after-party will be held at 9 p.m. each month at One, located at 300 E. Saratoga St. Call 410-235-4427 or visit www.visionarymarketing group.com.
For more club events, see Page 34.
Jazzy Summer Nights
The fifth annual Jazzy Summer Nights concert series will continue throughout the summer. Here's who'll be featured this year:
July 1: vocalist Frank McComb and opening act the Graingers
Aug. 5: local jazz/soul outfit Fertile Ground and an opener, Philly-based vocalist Lady Alma
Sept. 2: saxophonist Mike Phillips