Miles of Style
Club Night Adds A Splash Of Class To Baltimore’s Urban Music Scene
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It’s a rather mild Tuesday afternoon on Eager Street, and multi-instrumentalist Jarrett Miles is sipping a glass of white wine, as grown folks do. He’s also attempting to articulate what exactly he’s doing here today—other than drinking and enjoying the early summer weather—as the staff at Eden’s Lounge buzzes around him, lighting candles and adjusting the mood from sunny to sultry in preparation for another evening. "It’s hard to explain what the event is exactly, because it does so many things," Miles shrugs.
But it’s actually quite simple. Jarrett Miles saw a hole in Baltimore music: a place to consistently catch some mellow, grown-up urban music in a laid-back environment. There are plenty of places in Charm City to hear hip-hop bangers or club cuts, but not too many where you can chill with the grown and sexy. So Miles decided to do something about it, with the help of his partner and twin brother, Jermaine, who was otherwise occupied this afternoon. And their weekly Melodic Confessions party has turned the plush Eden’s Lounge from your standard hip Mount Vernon nightspot into a hub for Baltimore’s small but active alternative urban music scene.
Now 32, the brothers got their first break as members of Morgan State University’s marching band, under the direction of their father, Melvin Miles Jr., one of the city’s most accomplished homegrown musicians.
"Back in ’95, one of my frat brothers was with Jah Works and he told me they needed a piano player," Jarrett Miles says. "When I got down to the rehearsal I was like, ‘Look, I got a brother and he plays trumpet.’ I wasn’t a big reggae fan at the time, but it got us a chance to open for people like Burning Spear, Yellowman, Third World. [At the same time] we kept working on our jazz, and we ended up meeting groups like the Roots, OutKast. People were giving us good feedback, and we started thinking that we should start our own thing. But we didn’t want get labeled as ‘jazz musicians.’"
Being labeled a "jazz musician" these days comes with a certain stigma—little chance for commercial success—so Jarrett and Jermaine sought out a hipper, younger crowd. They moved to Philadelphia for a time in the late ’90s, where they were introduced to Black Lily, an all-female talent showcase known for breaking neo-soul star Jill Scott and many other stars of urban bohemia.
"None of these acts had horns," Jarrett Miles says. "So we approached these hip-hop cats like, ‘Hey, instead of sampling these licks, why don’t you just let us play it. That way you don’t have to pay for the credit, and we gonna give you something a little edgier.’"
The modest proposal worked, and the two brothers soon found themselves courted by hip-hop and soul artists like Scott Storch and Bilal. Jamming, as well as relentless networking around the Black Lily circuit, grew into becoming the night’s stage managers. "A lot of people, even if they were just passing through town, we would play with them, talk to them, and end up going to the studio with them to bang out a track," Miles says. "That’s when we realized that this is how people that don’t know how to get into the industry need to get into the industry."
It was in the spirit of Black Lily that Melodic Confessions was born. Beginning about three years ago, it has featured local and touring acts backed by a live house band, a DJ who actually interacts with the band rather than simply spinning records, an open-mic contest, and the chance for homegrown soul, R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and gospel talents to build a local fan base. The brothers have even recently released a Melodic Confessions DVD featuring the best performances from the past few months. The night’s motto is "play hard or don’t play at all."
"A lot of celebrities and promoters don’t come to Baltimore," Miles continues. "They come from Philly and New York and skip right through here to go to D.C. because there’s not a big movement here, and there aren’t any venues for urban artist. You have to be selling out at Morgan [State’s Murphy Fine Arts Center] or the Meyerhoff. There’s really no place to get a little buzz, really."
When it comes to local artist showcases, Melodic Confessions isn’t reinventing the wheel, but the Miles brothers have definitely put some nice new rims on it. And at the end of the day, in a town where talent frequently escapes to Washington, New York, and Philly, the brothers want to do more than emulate Black Lily’s success. They want to make sure that artists in the area know that people are working hard to establish a scene where alternative urban acts can hone their stage show, network with like-minded artists, and establish their own buzz. So, OK, yeah, it’s kind of like emulating the success of Black Lily—but unisex this time.
"Right now, I’m still working with Kindred," Miles says of Kindred the Family Soul, the soul vocal duo from Philly that the brothers play with; they also lead their own band, Mainstream. "But I just want to keep making moves with [Melodic Confessions]. I want Melodic Confessions to get a rep as the place that you have to perform at before you make that final, big leap."