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Live Reviews

Ellington Festival: A Capital Idea

By Published: October 25, 2006
Pianist Dick Morgan, a Washington legend, and a quartet featuring Steve Abshire on guitar, were at their Oscar Peterson-Herb Ellis best at the Willard Hotel. Morgan draws on pop music and gospel for much of his material, enlisting his audience as a makeshift church choir on a couple of occasions. His "Autumn Leaves" variations ranged from the rock anthem "Season of the Witch" to a Chopin Polonaise to a beguiling bossa nova. He's steeped in the blues, too, from a hushed "After Hours" to a stomping "Moten Swing," off his latest album, "9:20 Special," an homage to Basie.

Afro-Cuban music was a staple at the festival. AfroBop Alliance from Annapolis played for the Smithsonian Jazz Cafe's monthly dinner, with Antonio Hart as guest soloist. Hart was also co-leader of "Soul of Corona," from Queens, at the Sunday morning brunch at the Sculpture Garden, with the sun itself showing up for the first time in days. Co-leader Michael Phillip Mossman, Hart and a contingent from Chico O'Farrill's big band, put a Latin spin on jazz standards and r&b and soul favorites. A tasty way to end my festival, though more Ellingtonia was on tap Sunday night.

I also found time to visit Cafe Nema on U Street, where drummer Quincy Phillips led an assertive trio of "Young Lions" one night and South African singer-actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones and a band called "Lalema" conjured up fond memories of Miriam Makeba's sweet soulful sounds.

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