D.C. Becomes Jazz City
Sometimes the rapidly changing landscape of this city resembles an ongoing jazz improvisation, always moving, going here, going there, always changing, before it returns to its core melody, its home base.
So it feels right that, in addition to all the other changes, Washington, D.C., is becoming a new jazz city, much as it was many years ago when Duke Ellington first started out. Old-timers, fast disappearing but still talking, remember when the Howard Theatre, the Lincoln and other hot spots jazzed up the city in a Harlem Renaissance-type way.
Today there is a growing jazz scene in the very same area where Ellington used to live and play, down by 14th and U Streets, where you can find Bohemian Caverns – revived to its former glory – and places like Twins. Up in Adams Morgan, local players, trios and performers still play jazz in the evenings or on a summer’s afternoon with the windows open at Columbia Station.
The Howard Theater is reborn with a busy slate of jazz (and other kinds of music) and in Georgetown you can find the venerable jazz club Blues Alley, not far from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, whose graduates are starting to make names for themselves on the jazz scene.
The young, exuberant jazz pianist Jason Moran has taken over the jazz reigns at the Kennedy Center, which just got through holding the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Festival and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. At the museums, you can hear jazz in the summer, in the evenings and outdoors.
But it’s probably fair to say that what’s driving jazz all over the Washington area this month is the presence of the DC Jazz Festival, now celebrating its 10th year. And like the city itself, the festival, running June 24-29, is changing.
“It’s grown phenomenally,” Sunny Sumter, the DCJF’s longtime director said. “Think about it. When Charlie [Fishman, founder and artistic director for the festival] started this, that first year in 2005, there were 13 concerts. Now look at us, look at what the festival is doing and what it’s become.”
The short version: 125 performances in nearly 60 venues, considered to be the fastest-growing jazz festival in the country, with a year-round education and performance program.
Here’s what’s happening this year:
“Jazz at the Hamilton Live” (June 24-29)
“DC Jazz Festival and Events DC Present Jazz at the Riverfront” (June 27-29)
“Jazz in the ’Hoods Presented by Events DC” (June 24-29)
Also as part of the “Jazz in the ’Hoods” series, CapitolBop.com presents the DC Jazz Loft Series, now in its fourth year, with three nights of cutting-edge music, a piano “cutting contest” and an all-evening Block Party.
Who’s coming? A partial list:
The Roy Hargrove Quintet at the Hamilton, “urban harmonicist” Frederick Yonnet, Trombone Shorty headlining a New Orleans flavored evening, Yaslin Bey (also known as Mos Def), Cyrus Chestnut presenting a riff on and tribute to Dave Brubeck, Grammy-nominee Gregory Porter, Grammy-nominee Snarky Puppy, the Brass-A-Holics, Trio Caliente, Irma Thomas, the Tia Fuller Quintet and the Helen Sung Quintet in a salute to women in jazz, Marc Cary’s Rhodes Ahead, Butcher Brown and the Braxton Cook quartet.
“I think we’ve been part of recognizing how jazz itself has spread and changed, embracing or influencing other kinds of music,” Sumter said. “The Howard Theater is part of the festival this year with a Ginger Baker concert, and he’s known for being a drumming icon in the rock and roll world, but he’s also a jazz drummer. Paco D’Rivera has had a huge influence on jazz, spreading it into the Latin sounds, and he’s being a big part of the festival all along.”
Young people steeped in rock and roll, hip-hop, rap, alt, punk, pop and Americana have rooms in their imagination for a resurgence of jazz. And in this international city, the growing international appeal of jazz draws ears from all over.
During the course of the 10th annual DC Jazz Festival, jazz will reveal itself again in all of its facets and changing styles. And it will reveal the city for what it’s becoming, too: Jazz City.