Friday, February 9, 2018

An Interview with Alexander Jarman

    (Photograph by Olivia Obineme)

Baltimore Kissa Society co-founder, Cardinal Space gallery curator, vinyl DJ, visual artist -- Alexander Jarman is a man of many hats. We spoke to him about his passion for music and art, a dedication that is having quite an impact on Charm City.

You're the founder of The Baltimore Kissa Society, can you tell us about that organization?

Alexander: I started the Kissa (pronounced "key-sah") about two years ago as a way to connect people that were into vinyl records and jazz music. Once a month we get together for a listening party. And it's just like it sounds: we sit and listen, as in actually shut the hell up and communally listen, to an hour's worth of jazz records. The venue and the presenter change out each time, so it always stays fresh and idiosyncratic. I had only lived in Baltimore about a year when we started doing the listening parties, and was eager to connect more with the incredible jazz community that exists here. But the great thing is that we attract both the jazz experts and people who really don't know much about jazz but are curious and want more exposure to it. We also keep a blog about jazz album art at 

Please share your current favorite top 5 vinyl records, and give us a quick reason why each has made it into the short list?

(1) Kamasi Washington, Harmony of Difference (2017) Brainfeeder Records
This is an impressive piece of conceptual art, and it also happens to sound incredible. It debuted as an installation at the Whitney Biennial last year—not bad for a jazz album in the 21st century.

(2) FKJ, French Kiwi Juice (2017) Roche Musique
FKJ has always seemed to be one of the stars of this French house music label, but on this album he gets to stretch out and explore funk and jazz melodies too, he really seems to be carving out an individual voice for his music here.

(3) Gwen Guthrie, Gwen Guthrie (1982) Island Records
A back-up singer for so many famous acts, Guthrie finally got her own solo record deal in 1982. She would go on to become "The First Lady of Paradise Garage" and work with Larry Levan, but it all started with this record. You can just let this one play all the way through!

(4) LTD, Togetherness (1978), A&M Records
Found this one in a coffee shop in North Carolina (where LTD is from originally) and the owner was so passionate about their music he convinced me to buy this and two other albums by the group. It's a classic disco and R&B mix of dance tracks and sexy grooves. The album art alone will get you in the mood.

(5) Steely Dan, Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), ABC Records
Our last Kissa party covered the jazz influence on Steely Dan, something I really hadn't thought about too much before, but is undoubtedly there if you listen for it. On this album, lead singer David Palmer is gone and the group really starts to solidify around Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's sound. 

Having moved to Baltimore a few years ago, we're curious about what your impression of this city is?  How does it compare to other cities you've lived in with respect to music and art? 

Alexander: I moved here from San Diego, which has three times the population of Baltimore, but only a third of the art and culture you get in Charm City. The independent art spaces here are incredible and we didn't have that piece of the puzzle in SoCal. The fact that this place has such incredible jazz history and so many cool venues is actually why I started the Kissa, and I am so humbled by the way Baltimore shows up for art events! 

What is Cardinal space? Can you tell us what you have been showing there, and can you give us a sneak peak of what's coming up in the future?

Alexander: Cardinal is gallery, venue, and studio complex on North Avenue. I started the space with my partner Ariel Cowen and we can't make up our minds what type of place we are, in the best way possible: we had a show of artists' lists; a site-specific installation composed of building materials; and a show about artists using vinyl records and turntables in their work. Next up, we'll have rock-and-roll photography no one has ever seen before, since the artist is printing his negatives from the 1970s for the first time. We also have a great show about Baltimore's monuments opening early summer that I am incredibly eager to host with artist Ada Pinkston.

We're curious to know more about your background and inspirations. Please tell us a little bit about your formative years - in regards to what or whom has influenced you / played a role in your development in the arts?  

Alexander: I think those closest to me are sometimes exhausted by the way I hop from project to project, but the only thing that has ever been constant in my life is art and culture. I have never ever been interested in anything more than art, in all its many forms, since I can remember. And its worth noting that the whole time I was growing up my mom was a Programs Manager for a non-profit fighting bias and bigotry in Cincinnati. So here I am all these years later, and I am a Programs Manager for an arts non-profit. Which is to say, I am deeply passionate about getting people turned on to art, music, poetry, dance, film, you name it. So I do that for a living at a museum and I do it in my free time with DJing, running an art space, and throwing listening parties. 

We love that you're always having a good time when we see you out at events, what in your opinion are the key ingredients to a good party?

Alexander: Number one of course is good music. Sometimes people can't quite put their finger on why they like a place so much, and often I think it's the soundtrack. I always think overhead lighting should be a last resort, a few nice plants should be a priority, and that you can't walk into a party without at least one good joke or story that you're ready to tell. Oh yeah, and don't be afraid to dance. 
What kind of musical vibe can we expect for your DJ sets at The Elephant?

Alexander: You'll definitely hear some jazzy house tracks as well as some funk and R&B gems of the 1970s. And I usually manage to sneak a few minutes of jazz into the mix as well.  

Anything else you'd like to share?

Alexander: In this current moment of political shouting, I am trying to think more like John Cage, who offered, "I have nothing to say and I am saying it, and that is poetry, as I need it." 

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