Ed Hrybyk’s Weekly Jazz Jams Bring Free Music to City Parks

What started as a way to provide safe live music during the pandemic is now a weekly showcase that often raises awareness for worthy causes.
—Photography by Benjamin Tankersley

September 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA) jazz teacher Ed Hrybyk met one of his students face-to-face.

Quinn, an incoming freshman at BSA and a saxophone player, asked his dad to drive him to Wyman Park Dell so he could safely practice outside with other musicians. In a time where being a student meant suffering through long days on Zoom and self-paced study, Quinn finally was able to play for his teacher and receive live feedback.

“Unless [the students] get real playing experience, what are they really going to learn?” says Hrybyk, a bass player. “They’re going to be hindered.”

This wasn’t Hrybyk’s first foray into outdoor music making. In April 2020, he began hosting intimate porch concerts to bring live music to Baltimore’s neighborhoods while also helping out artists who had previously made their living off of paying gigs at indoor venues.

He noticed, however, that there was no place for a larger group to get together. Prior to the pandemic, there had been a handful of jam sessions open to musicians looking to hone their craft, but they were all held indoors, mostly bars. Hrybyk’s solution: a jam session, open to the public both to listen and to play along, held at a different Baltimore park every week.

“All of a sudden, folks were able to safely be outside and enjoy music, and they were also being introduced to outdoor spaces they might not have ever known,” says Sam Novak, a frequent audience member at these jazz jams.

Connecting Baltimoreans to local music and green spaces proved so successful, Hrybyk decided to continue it even after COVID-19 restrictions lifted. And he’s now added a sponsorship element so organizations or individuals can support the musicians while raising awareness for a cause.

During the height of the pandemic, Novak’s sister lost her partner to COVID-19, and with restrictions high, they feared they wouldn’t be able to have a proper memorial for him. Hrybyk allowed the family to sponsor a jazz jam, which not only brought people out to spend time together, but also felt like a fitting celebration
of her partner’s life.

“It was a really beautiful moment of friends and family from all over the place, but also folks from Baltimore who wanted to enjoy jazz, showing up and honoring, grieving, and celebrating in a way that felt really exciting and different than a regular funeral,” says Novak.

Since then, Hrybyk also has used sponsored jams to gather resources for the Dot Project, a Baltimore nonprofit that provides access to menstrual care, and to raise awareness for local organizations like the No Boundaries Coalition.

As the jam session is held in a different location each week, Hrybyk and various musicians from around the area act as an improvisational traveling band, providing entertainment to their neighbors who live near the parks. It’s free to join in and play or just watch, and it’s only a few hours long, making it a perfect outing for young people and families.

“You don’t have to go downtown. You don’t have to find parking. It’s right in your backyard,” Hrybyk said. “I’m literally bringing music to the community.”