The coronavirus pandemic has not been easy on professional musicians: closed venues and restaurants mean that steady gigs have dried up for the foreseeable future. So Ed Hrybyk and Clarence Ward III have turned to a makeshift venue partial to Baltimore row home dwellers: a porch.
On most Wednesday nights, Hrybyk plays at Nori, a sushi restaurant in Hampden that has since suspended dine-in services. For the last five Wednesdays, Hrybyk has instead picked up his upright bass and livestreamed a jazz show on his porch with Ward, who plays trumpet and flugelhorn.
“I’m used to working four to five days a week and now I'm working zero days a week, so I figured I need to get a good little workout in,” said Ward. He has hosted a jazz night on Mondays at Terra Cafe in Charles Village for years; like Hrybyk, his gig has dried up.
Before each show, Hrybyk drapes a large white bedsheet painted with his Venmo username over the porch rail at his home on the 2800 block of St. Paul St. The idea is that listeners enjoying the livestream or from the street tip the musicians for their hour-long show.
“I wouldn't say I'm making a lot of money, but it's definitely helpful,” Hrybyk said. “People have been really a lot more generous than I would think.”
Nori has continued to support Hrybyk by supplying him dinner on the nights he would’ve played at the restaurant. On Wednesday night, Hrybyk touted the dish of the day -- a shrimp tempura poke bowl -- and encouraged listeners to support local restaurants. He and Ward both hope to return to their usual gigs once containment measures are lifted.
“If you can, order takeout from Nori or Terra,” he said in between songs.
The tips are nice, Ward said, but there’s another reason he likes playing on the porch: he can play as loud as he wants,
“I miss playing with people,” he said. “I play stronger when I'm in public. In a house -- I play a bit more timid, I don't put enough air in the horn.”
Both of the musicians have tried filing for unemployment, but Maryland’s system is overwhelmed and they have yet to get in. They hope to collect benefits eventually.
They’re also both still waiting for stimulus checks.
“That’d be nice,” Hrybyk said wryly.
In the meantime, the jazz duo will continue their porch concerts -- much to the appreciation of Hrybyk’s neighbors, who listen from their own porches or on the sidewalk with plenty of room between one another.