The DC Jazz Festival's seventh year was defined in equal measure by the event's now distinct combination of local acts and headline guests, spread throughout the city's stages, museums, and local clubs. Unlike many festivals, the DC Jazz Festival has maintained an exclusive focus on jazz music and continues to place a spotlight on the local musicians that now more than ever are converting DC back into a vibrant jazz city. The DC Jazz Festival recipe has come to rely on some stock ingredientsRoy Hargrove
were back for another round of Jazz on the Mall this yearbut the 2011 lineup was leavened by several new additions that helped transform the two-week event into a life-affirming celebration of community and culture.
The two major new themes of the festival reflected the underlying inspirations of the festival organizers. First, the Capitol Bop-sponsored Loft Series brought together native bands with some of New York's most cutting edge artists to perform in impromptu spaces throughout the city. The inspiration of Giovanni Russonello, this homegrown endeavor gifted the festival with a roster of experimental jazz and a scene particularly appealing to younger audiences, fulfilling the festival's overall mission to entertain, educate, and expose. The second infusion was the bookending of the festival by two events focused on the music of New Orleans, a welcome addition that highlighted Washington, DC's cross-roads nature, its blend of Southern and East Coast sounds, tempos, and culture.
Opening Gala: Brass-A-Holics
The festival's cross-pollination was on full display during the gala opening on June 3rd, held at the French Embassy. Performing to a private audience of festival supporters, musicians, and city luminaries amidst a delectable spread served up by a host of DC's better eating establishments, the young New Orleans band Brass-A-Holics couldn't have opened the festival with a bigger bang. Fun, lively, and raw, the eight-person band got down to business right away, mixing traditional swing with hip-hop vocals, Go-Go rhythms and funk beats in an adrenaline surge of big, brassy energy.
Asked about his band's diverse style, bandleader and trombonist Winston Turner articulated his excitement at being in Washington and the connection he sees between the city's musical traditions, including of course both jazz and go-go:
"When you dance to New Orleans music it's a lot of foot work, it's a really groovin' rhythm, and when you hear [go-go] the movement and the sound is pretty much the same rhythm. Some of it is funky. It's got a street flavor. So when you hear both of them you have to dance. The dance steps that we actually do in New Orleans to traditional second line music you can do it over DC musicit's like you are already used to it and already appreciate it. We just try to use the same rhythm, the rhythm and playing horns over it is just so funky.... I am just so excited to be here, to be a part of what's going on, the music, the festival, everything."
That excitement, coupled with the infectious beats and interlocking horns of the band translated immediately to the crowd, transforming the night into one big party. By the end of the first song everyone was on their feet. By the second, the chairs had been abandoned, and as the band blasted away the crowd swirled, swayed, and mingled while sampling luxurious hand-made desserts from local bakery Cake Love, as well as potent cocktails, scrumptious crawfish étouffée from Acadiana, and a plethora of other treats.
Gala Second Line
The evening then culminated with Turner and company leading the crowd in a "second line" around the room. It didn't take long for the handkerchiefs to come out and the whole crowd to proceed marching throughout the space to the rhythm of the bandincluding, notably, jazz fan and festival supporter Congressman John Conyers.
An auspicious beginning, the Brass-A-Holics performance set at tone of casual ease, communal fun, and musicianship that would permeate the rest of the festival.
Basements and Lofts
Anchored by U-Street, the historic home-base of DC jazz, the DC Jazz Festival once again maximized the theaters, clubs, bars, and galleries of DC, infiltrating neighborhood nooks with everything from interactive children's shows, to swing brunches, to packed nights of intense music at the city's premier jazz clubs.