Today we’d like to introduce you to Ian Rashkin.
Hi Ian, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I moved to Baltimore from the west coast in 2005 with a young child, a new job, and almost zero knowledge of the local jazz scene. I met a couple of people and heard about a couple of venues, but between work and family I didn’t have a lot of time to explore and get to know the scene. But I did discover the Baltimore Jazz Alliance – I don’t recall if it was through the website or newsletter – and soon had a much better understanding of what was going on, where it was happening, and who to watch for. I still didn’t have much time to resume my bass playing, but I did get out a bit more and started to hear some really excellent music.
After being a BJA member for a few years and slowly getting more familiar with the scene, I saw that they were seeking new board members, so I decided to apply. I had some experience with non-profits from my years in the Seattle music scene, and also figured my background as a software developer and music maker would come in handy. That was indeed the case, and right away I was able to help with both the website and the membership management, while also helping to support the various events and programs put on by the BJA. I guess I showed my worth, and so in 2015 when then president Mark Osteen announced that he would not seek reelection, I was encouraged to stand for election in that role. I became president of the organization in 2016.
The BJA was founded in 2003 and was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2012. From the beginning, the organization’s goals include increasing the visibility of existing opportunities for audiences to hear live jazz in the Baltimore area; increasing opportunities for jazz musicians to perform in the area; promoting local musicians and venues through information sharing in print and digital media, and promoting jazz education for Baltimore’s next generation of musicians and audiences. The organization prints and distributes a newsletter, maintains a website (http://baltimorejazz.com) featuring a calendar of local jazz events, and presence on multiple social media channels. Some of the many accomplishments of the organization in the years before my term as president include two Baltimore Jazz Composers Showcases and two CDs of Baltimore jazz artists; a Youth Jazz Congress; the Jazz for Kids program and a Musical Instrument Petting Zoo; a BJA Big Band; and much more.
During my tenure we introduced several additional programs. First, we launched the Baltimore Jazz Fest in 2016, which was reprised in 2019 and then, following a COVID break, in 2022. In 2019 we also launched a Baltimore Jazz Conference, which has been an annual event ever since, mixing information, discussion, and performance. We’ve held a variety of popular free events for International Jazz Appreciation Month, and we started a member grants program where our dues-paying members can help drive what programs we fund.
At the same time, we focused on putting the Alliance back in Baltimore Jazz Alliance, building lasting partnerships with Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, Dance Baltimore, St. John’s Episcopal Church, The Little Italy Neighborhood Association, Baltimore Public Markets, Baltimore City Schools, and many venues and other arts organizations.
At the end of 2021 I stepped down after three terms as board president, but remain active as board treasurer.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Nothing is ever totally smooth, but I will say that our struggles have been minimal. For years, we received little or no public funding and struggled to meet our financial obligations. And we have tried things that haven’t always worked. But in general, given that our mission is essentially to do whatever we can to support and elevate the jazz community, our real struggle is that we always wish we could do more. An example is our recent Baltimore Jazz Fest (June 19th, 2022 – https://baltimorejazzfest.com). We started the Jazz fest in 2016 in partnership with the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) due to much desire expressed by many jazz community members. It was successful, but we struggled to raise funds for a repeat event for the next couple of years. In 2018 we were approached by St. John’s in the Village and partnered with them to revive the Fest as a Father’s Day even in 2019. Again, this was successful, and we were set to build it into an annual event, but COVID-19 put the brakes on that. At last, we resumed it again in 2022, hoping to build it up as an anchoring event in Baltimore and the area.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am proud of the state of the organization as I left it to the current president, and I like to think that I’ve helped set up the conditions that will help it continue on that path without my input.
Specifically, while I am proud to have led the creation of Baltimore Jazz Fest, I am even more proud of two specific programs developed under my leadership. In 2019 we launched the Baltimore Jazz Conference to bring artists, audiences, presenters, and supporters together and not only share information (from panel discussions to technical presentations) but also encourage networking and collaboration. We were able to continue this annually, though it has had to be virtual these past two years, and while it has been small, it has been the source of much learning and deep discussion.
Additionally, we started a program of member grants wherein members — musicians and listeners alike — are eligible to apply to the BJA for financial support for a project that contributes to or enhances the Baltimore jazz scene. You can see https://www.baltimorejazz.com/bja-member-grants/ – so far, we are thrilled to have supported several liver performances, debut recordings, and a documentary film in the works.
It’s my belief that community – be it the jazz community, the overall arts community, or the Baltimore community as a whole – is strengthened by working together. This is the goal of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance, and this is my motivation for volunteering; I hope that others treasure the amazing Baltimore jazz community as well, and lend their skills, wherever they lie, to strengthening it for all.
Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
Listen! In any organization, in any community, it is crucial to listen to your fellow leaders, the members of your organization, and the members of your community at large. In our case, that means listening to performers, bar owners, audiences, and other organization leaders. We can’t be everything to everyone, and we can’t always satisfy everyone, but we can listen, be aware when we are not serving our community in the best way, and take steps to change.
- We almost always make our events free to the public.
- We are supported in part by our members – our $25 per year membership fee helps us to consistently provide our services.
- Website: https://baltimorejazz.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/baltimorejazz/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreJazz/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/BaltimoreJazz1
- Other: https://baltimorejazzfest.com
Ian Rashkin, Jean Farnsworth, Steve Everette, Steve Oney, Michael Formanek, Dubscience Photography