By Bob Jacobson
As a musician, Ian Rashkin draws on a diverse palette of genres. When he lived in California, he played Cuban and Puerto Rican music. Here in Baltimore, he has played classical music with the Baltimore Sinfonia and klezmer with clarinetist Seth Kibel. But jazz is the genre that Rashkin devotes most of his attention to.
“Jazz offers a great mix of freedom and potential for irreverence, which I did not find in progressive rock,” Rashkin said. “Jazz has harmonic and rhythmic freedom, freedom for the individual to have their own voice and dialogue at the same time.”
Rashkin is the president of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance, and he leads the jazz trio Mike ‘n’ Ike. He is also lead software engineer for Sound Exchange, a nonprofit collecting and distributing royalties.
Rashkin was born in Los Angeles and raised in Pacific Grove, Calif. For college, he moved up the coast to the University of Washington, in Seattle, where he settled. He married Laura Land, and they had a daughter, Anna. In 2005, the family moved to his wife’s hometown, Baltimore. The Rashkins’ move would eventually benefit their immediate community near Mt. Washington and the Baltimore metro area’s cultural scene.
As a teenager, Rashkin sang in the punk band Biohazard. Later, he explained, he fell in love with the deep sound of acoustic, upright bass, the “feel of that much air, wood and vibration, becoming one with the music,” he said.
He also liked the idea of anchoring a band. In college, Rashkin majored in orchestral music, concentrating on classical but veering a bit into jazz. Like many music majors, he did not pursue a full-time career as a performer or composer but has consistently played part time and composed music for his own jazz groups and independent movies.
Since the easing of pandemic restrictions, Rashkin has played at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where he and his family are members.
His love of jazz and the vibrant but underrecognized Baltimore jazz scene has also led him beyond performing and composing into advocacy.
Since 2016, Rashkin has been president of Baltimore Jazz Alliance, the nonprofit founded in 2003 by jazz fan Barry Glassman. In its first 11 years, BJA produced three CDs, one book of tunes by Baltimore composers, a newsletter, a website and a Jazz for Kids program.
Rashkin joined BJA’s board in 2014, engaging in important but mostly behind-the-scenes activities. Two years later, he was voted president. Since then, the organization has sponsored two jazz festivals and three annual conferences (the last two remotely, the most recent one as part of Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts’ Free Fall Baltimore series). BJA has also joined forces with partners, including the Bromo Arts District, Dance Baltimore, Baltimore Center Stage, Little Italy Madonnari Arts Festival, Contemporary Arts Inc., Eubie Blake Cultural Center and the RJY Chick Webb Council. BJA has also launched a small grants program for members, which has helped support bassist Ed Hrybyk’s roving outdoor jam session and debut recordings by singer Irene Jalenti and saxophonist Rachel Winder.
Rashkin will soon leave his post as BJA president but will remain as the organization’s treasurer.
Rashkin “has been a stupendous leader and innovator,” said founder Barry Glassman, writing from retirement in Cascais, Portugal.
Bob Jacobson is a freelance writer.