Barkan, Wiedmaier Team for Keystone Korner Baltimore

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Todd Barkan, who owned the original Keystone Korner in San Francisco, stands outside the new Keystone Korner Baltimore.

(Photo: Michael Wilderman)

The worldwide celebration of International Jazz Day on April 30 included the grand opening of a club bearing an iconic name: Keystone Korner. Far removed from its original location in San Francisco, however, the new venue and restaurant is perched on the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland.

“It’s a city with a need for a full-time jazz venue like this,” said Todd Barkan, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master fellowship recipient, producer and impresario who owned the original Keystone Korner from 1972 to 1983. “I’m really happy to fulfill that need in the community.”

Keystone Korner Baltimore is a collaboration between Barkan and Robert Wiedmaier, a Michelin-starred chef who owns 10 other seafood-oriented restaurants in the Washington D.C. area. The space formerly housed Wiedmaier’s Mussel Bar & Grille, which closed in April 2018. The new venue offers contemporary American cuisine, continuing Wiedmaier’s emphasis on seafood, but also offering chicken and beef entrees.

Its grand opening featured legendary bassist Ron Carter, a longtime friend of Barkan’s (and frequent performer at the San Francisco club). He led his Golden Striker Trio, featuring pianist Donald Vega and guitarist Russell Malone, in a three-night stand.

“I haven’t played Baltimore since 1964,” Carter remarked to the audience. “But I’m here tonight.”

Keystone Korner Baltimore’s creation began in April 2018, when Barkan—then living in New York—traveled to Washington for a ceremony marking his becoming a NEA Jazz Master. During a banquet at Marcel, Wiedmaier’s flagship D.C. restaurant, Barkan and the chef met for the first time.

They became fast friends, and immediately talked about working together. Tentative plans for a D.C. jazz club fell through, so they began discussing other locations.

Two weeks prior to the NEA banquet, the Baltimore location of Mussel Bar & Grille closed for several months, deferring to the construction that surrounded and restricted access to the restaurant. It was still closed in January 2019, when it occurred to Wiedmaier that he might already have the ideal location for a new jazz club in his hands. Barkan was in the middle of a mentoring workshop in New York when the chef called him: “He said, ‘Todd, I’ve got some great news. I want to turn this place into the new Keystone Korner,’” Barkan recalled.

Intensive work was required to complete the space’s conversion by the time of the April 30 target opening. Among other things, a crew had to knock out the walls of the previous restaurant’s private dining room to build the stage in that space. At the club’s soft opening, two nights before the official debut, staffers still were working through sound and lighting issues.

“It’s a work in progress,” Barkan said. “But it’s coming along.”

Featuring a dimly lit, burnt-orange décor, Keystone Korner Baltimore is a remarkably large space for a jazz club. It occupies 8,000 square feet, seats 220 people and includes an enormous central bar that serves local and regional draft beers. It also features a large stage that faces a bank of small four-top tables, with booths lining the walls beside the performance space and behind the bar. Video screens hang over the bar, allowing customers seated at or behind the bar to see the artists onstage.

“We have two-tiered seating,” Barkan said. “For the seats that are a little farther away from the stage, the average ticket price will be between $20 and $25. The premium, closer seats will be somewhere in the range of $35. For the many great artists in the mid-Atlantic area, tickets will be more like $10 to $20. I want to keep this an accessible club.”

While forthcoming headliners include pianists Bill Charlap, Kenny Barron and Eddie Palmieri, Barkan also plans healthy programming of area musicians. He’s in talks with trumpeter Sean Jones, who chairs the jazz department at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, about creating an ensemble that will host a weekly residency. At the soft opening, the trumpeter sat in with a quartet led by vibraphonist Warren Wolf—an internationally renowned musician who’s also a lifelong Baltimorean.

“I think [this club] will open the scene up a lot more,” Wolf said. “Right now, we only have two or three different venues in town, and artists who talk about playing the East Coast will hit Philadelphia, then skip down to Washington. Now, Keystone Korner Baltimore will give them an opportunity to play for the people of Baltimore, and maybe take a new look at the city as well.”

Other upcoming shows include The Cookers (May 15–19), the Steve Turre Sextet (June 6–9) and Monty Alexander (July 18–21). A full schedule is posted at the Keystone Korner Baltimore website. DB



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