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Baltimore and beyond

It has been years since riots, racial tensions and the changing landscape of popular music extinguished the lights of the last jazz clubs on Pennsylvania Avenue, but the members of the Potomac River Jazz Club still reminisce about the days when Louis Armstrong reigned king.

With the efforts of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance and the Chamber Jazz Society of Baltimore, there are several forces pulling for a revival of the local jazz scene in Charm City. But one organization is uniting fans, musicians and educators on a broader spectrum to establish a regional sound.

The Potomac River Jazz Clubsupports live jazz in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metro areas and everywhere in between.

“Our mission is to preserve, encourage, and promote the playing and appreciation of traditional jazz, “ said Donald Farwell, who has been a member since 1971 and has served as president, vice president, newsletter editor, publicity director, and member of the board of directors. He is now the club's counsel. Farwell defined traditional jazz as a variety of sounds, including blues and ragtime, which predated 1940.

The PRJC was founded in late 1971 and was incorporated Washington, D.C., in November 1972. Among its efforts to increase jazz awareness in the area are monthly concerts with performances by local and national bands. In the spring the PRJC presents an all-day Jazz Jubilee and donates the proceeds to various charitable organizations, including Capital Hospice and Hospice Caring, the American Cancer Society, Leukemia Society, and Alzheimer's Association. They also host an all-day Jazz Picnic in September. All events sponsored by the PRJC are open to the public.

Though most members are located in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, the PRJC has 1,100 members all over the United States and abroad, and their influence reaches beyond the Baltimore-D.C. corridor. In the summer they provide jazz bands to the Fairfax County Park Authority to play at their Concerts in the Park program.

“Our promotional efforts are focused largely upon local jazz musicians, but we also do our best to promote all traditional jazz in the area, whether performed by local musicians or national or international musicians,” Farwell said. There are over thirty jazz bands loosely affiliated with the club.

As a promotional tool the PRJC publishes a monthly newsletter called Tailgate Ramblings , which highlights area jazz events.

“Tailgate Ramblings is recognized as one of the finest jazz publications in the country,” said Farwell, who served as the editor at three different periods totaling about eight years.

Farwell believes that there is still something about the Baltimore jazz scene that is worth celebrating.

“Baltimore has been very important in the development of jazz,” said Farwell, who named Eubie Blake, Billie Holiday, John Kirby and Don Ewell among the legendary musicians who called Baltimore home.

“It is important to keep traditional jazz alive because jazz is America's only original art form,” Farwell said. “A professor from the University of Salzburg, Dr. Reinhold Wagnleitner, told a colloquium in New Orleans earlier this year that jazz is the most important American contribution to world culture, and that it will eventually be recognized as critical to the spread of American culture and ideals.”

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