Rising jazz star Todd Marcus lives just three blocks from Gilmor Homes, the Baltimore housing project where Freddie Gray lived and was arrested in 2015. Marcus didn’t grow up in the poverty-plagued Sandtown neighborhood, but the New Jersey native started volunteering there as a 19-year-old college student, moved in two years later and is still at it as a 42-year-old activist. Today he is the executive director of Intersection of Change, a non-profit group working to improve the neighborhood’s quality of life.
In the jazz world, Marcus is best known as an advocate of the bass clarinet as a fulltime, mainstream instrument, not just something to double on in novelty or avant-garde situations. Inspired by his Egyptian-born father, the younger Marcus is also known for integrating the music of the Nile into modern jazz. What most members of the jazz world don’t realize, however, is how much Marcus’ day job as a community organizer in one of America’s most troubled urban neighborhoods informs his composing and performing.