D.C. Jazz Fest: Nationwide, Worldwide Reputation

Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders

Back in 2009, when the D.C. Jazz Festival was celebrating its fifth anniversary with a New Orleans-themed festival and the presence of the Marsalis clan, we had occasion to talk with festival director and founder Charlie Fishman for the first time. Back then, and way before back then, when he first jotted down some notes on a jazz festival with friends, Fishman insisted that D.C. was “a jazz town” and that was why it had to have a jazz festival worthy of the name.

Back in the day, the city and jazz were more a matter of history than what was actually happening—this was the city of Ellington and the Lincoln and Howard theaters of legend. The city had a jazz legacy, but not as much as much jazz being played in an organized, visible way than it might have.

It’s fair to say that the D.C. Jazz Festival, getting ready for its ninth festival—June 5 through June 16—and pretty much a permanent institution in the city’s cultural landscape has changed all that. The festival, growing, changing and spreading out, has become a force with a city-wide, countrywide and worldwide reputation.

“I think we’ve cemented our presence,” Fishman said. “We’ve added things and changed things every year, and I think we’ve had a big impact on the city, and the presence of jazz in the city. A lot of musical programs are adding jazz, the Atlas, the museums. It’s being played all over the city. We haven’t quite gotten to the point where the festival itself has become a year-round thing, but we’re getting there. I think right now we’re an energy bunny, an engine that’s driving things beyond the festival.”

If a jazz festival ever had the perfect guy to run it, it’s Fishman. He lives, breathes and bleeds jazz out of the pores of his being. He is a natural, given that he was the manager and producer for jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, a history which gives him the kind of feel and sense for and of jazz history more than most persons can muster today.

“Jazz is different today,” Fishman said. “It’s actually growing as a musical genre. It’s being played all over the world, with the result that the music is getting enriched, changed and influenced. There are more jazz musicians, really good ones, than ever before. Musically, this is the best educated generation of musicians we’ve ever seen.”

“I’ve tried to add a little something new every year,” Fishman said. “Last year, we had ‘Jazz Meets the Classics.’ This year, it’s ‘Jazz Meets the Latin Classics.’ “ This speaks to the critical presence of Paquito D’Rivera in the festival. He and the Panamerican Ensemble will perform at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater June 14.

“D’Rivera, a legend in the Latin-flavored jazz world, is co-artistic director of the festival and clarinetist, saxophonist, conductor and NEA jazz master,” Fishman said. “Paquito is priceless to us.”

A cornerstone and much buzzed-about event of the festival is the June 15, 3 p.m. concert by the Roots, the hugely popular and enduring group which will be at a new festival venue at the Kastles Stadium at the Wharf.

For the second year, a key venue and program of the festival will be “Jazz at the Hamilton Live.” The big, classy downtown club and restaurant will include performances by the likes of Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet in a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck among others.

Other programs continue: the great “Jazz in the Hoods” series, which spreads out the gospel, if you will, of jazz to many of the neighborhoods in Washington, from Georgetown to Adams Morgan, from Petworth to Dupont Circle, from Capitol Hill to Mount Pleasant. Also back are programs like the Student Concerts and Meet the Artists Series, the Jazz ‘N Families Fun Days at the Phillips Collection, Jazz at the Howard Theatre and the Capitol Bop D.C. Jazz Loft Series. In June, it’s jazz.

For a complete list of venues, events, performers, times, places , programs and locations, visit www.dcjazzfest.org.

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May 29, 2013 at 1:33 PM Dave Roffman

Is Charlie Fishman the same guy who owned The Cellar Door in Georgetown? I used to be a waiter there when I first came to DC and they always featured great jazz groups and artists, i.e., Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Herbie Mann, Cannonbal Adderly, etc. And the owner, Charlie, would sit up in the balcony grooving to the jazz.

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