Every summer, the DC Jazz Festival shines a spotlight on Washington, D.C.'s expanding music scene, having grown in parallel with the increased number of jazz clubs, venues, and musicians the nation's capital now harbors. The relationship has been mutually reinforcing. The festival created a national brand and, especially in its early years, harnessed the support of major sponsors and city officials behind the mission of celebrating D.C's jazz legacy. In turn, the clubs' bookings and ties to local musicians kept the festival's lineup full and energized.
Now in its eighth year, it would be reasonable to assess the endeavor's success. It is inarguable that the festival has amplified the voice of jazz in D.C. It has brought many innovative artists to the city and offered them a space to showcase original, ambitious music. This hallmark of the festival is sometimes overlooked. It can be difficult for artists to put forward large ensembles or challenging, experimental works, but the festival's partnerships with the Kennedy Center, the Sixth and I Synagogue, and many of the other D.C. performing arts spaces have afforded audiences over the years the opportunity to hear music rarely taken on the road. At the same time, the festival has been strategic in building on its successes, leveraging relationships and bringing artists back in morphing configurations over multiple years. This tendency to recycle contentmore noticeable recentlyhas drawn some criticism.
Certainly, the festival would benefit from booking more new artists. Greater diversity would further strengthen the festival's national reputation and afford audiences exposure to an even wider spectrum of contemporary jazz. However, since this is a jazz festival, the issue isn't black and white. As jazz fans well know, one of the joys of jazz is that audiences can see the same players perform three nights in a row, but hear entirely different music. So while frequent festival goers couldn't fail to note that the 2013 schedule brought back a lot of faces familiar to D.C., including Roy Hargrove
, and vocalists Buika and Susana Baca. And, once again, the festival linked arms with the Capitol Bop Loft Series to offer avant-garde happenings in improvised spaces across the city.
A Night in the Life of the DC Jazz Festival
A more detailed dive into a single night of performances illustrates the festival's depth. On Sunday, June 9, Roy Hargrove returned for his annual festival performance, this time at the Hamilton Theater, which hosted many of this year's main festival acts. Performing with a quintet, Hargrove served up his signature brand of contemporary jazz, blending post-bop swing with softly textured ballads, and even seduced the audience with a vocal rendition of "Never Let Me Go," sounding at times as if he were channeling Jimmy Scott
showcased a stunningly inventive set of new music titled "Bagels to Bongos" at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Playing to a packed house (lines went around the block), O'Farrill and featured artist Anat Cohen filled the Synagogue's ornate space with a distinctive concoction of Latin, Jewish, and jazz musical traditions. Exploring the historical link between Afro-Latin and Jewish music, the band blended mambos, merengues, klezmer, and Middle Eastern threads to potent effect. Particularly notable was Cohen's interaction with the band, her passionate playing and free-spirited approach feeding the explosive rhythms and big sound. Both penetrating and uplifting, the music received a standing ovation response.