In the 1930s and 1940s, Baltimore had a rich, flourishing jazz scene.
Today, live jazz and devoted jazz clubs are scarce. But the owners of a new club located in a threadbare West Baltimore commercial district are hoping to help rekindle the city's once-dynamic jazz legacy.
"We think Baltimore can be a major city for jazz," said Errez Segman, co-owner of the forthcoming venue, Back Alley Jazz. "We want our club to be a household name for live jazz and fine dining, and we think Baltimore's the right city for that."
Two years ago, Segman and his business partner, Daniel Chreky, bought a building in the 1100 block of W. Baltimore St., where Union Square meets Hollins Market. They poured more than $400,000 into the three-story space, secured a liquor license and drummed up support from neighborhood residents and city officials.
Starting next month, Segman and Chreky plan to book nationally renown jazz acts for shows several times a week, they said. Back Alley Jazz has two stages, exposed brick walls and a 1920s theme. Servers will wear uniforms reminiscent of the era, and a closed-circuit video and audio system will let customers watch the show from anywhere inside, Segman said.
"It's like a theme park when you come in," he said. "It's geared toward the jazzy, bluesy feelings of the 1920s."
Though Back Alley Jazz may be a step in the right direction for the neighborhood, one club might not make enough impact to turn nearby businesses around, said Christopher Taylor, president of the Union Square Association.
"It's a tough corridor," he said. "But you have the people and the money coming back in. Your base is here. It just needs to continue to grow."
The entrance will be in the rear of the building, closer to Hollins Market, and the club will have valet parking and off-duty police officers working security. Though the interior of the club may look nothing like it used to, the back alley itself was still trash-strewn last week.
Once it's clean, Chreky envisions murals on brick building exteriors, and regular jazz festivals that would benefit charity.
"We'll get Baltimore swinging a little bit," Chreky said.