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Duke Ellington Jazz Fest 2008: The Evolution of a Jazz Festival

By Published: December 16, 2008
Though tremendous on trombone, especially as he interacts with MC Core Rhythm's freestyle, Leong's experimental shock is most stunning on cello. Plucking, strumming, bowing, and tapping the strings, Leong manipulates an instrument most often associated with the precision and emotive clarity of classical quartets, into a blistering medium of astonishing tonal range—sounding like everything from its traditional sonorous voice, to the most distorted of electric guitars and everything in between.

A prime example of this was Leong's improvised slide into a Jimi Hendrix inspired "Star Spangled Banner" in the middle of the evening's highlight, Leong's reworking of the punk band Firewater's "Another Perfect Catastrophe". As he shredded away, the crowd cheered the political cleverness, musical virtuosity, and unbridled energy on display in one of many rapid-fire moments of inventiveness.

Built around modern beats and infused from top to bottom with cutting edge sounds, Leong's music embodies a new bohemia, a culture of collision that disavows boundaries. And the crowd loved it.

Booking Leong's highly experimental, innovative group into a hip, politically charged venue perfectly suited to his brand of hard-hitting, challenging music is an example of the Duke Ellington Festival's savvy in leveraging existing relationships and past successes to strengthen the festival's appeal within the still limited resources it has to work with. Hopefully the festival will continue to put artists like Leong on the forefront of its schedule, keeping the festival's image vibrant and helping to draw in new, younger audiences reflective of Washington, DC's diversity.


The above sampling represents the evolving fare available at the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. On the main stages and in the clubs a growing cross section of the contemporary jazz scene can be found—from McCoy Tyner, to Christian McBride, to the Duke Ellington Orchestra, to Dana Leong. With each passing year, this picture is becoming more complete as the festival secures a place in Washington, DC's cultural scene. Or, in the words of local business owner Anne Chashin, who runs Jonny's Half Shell and has hosted events for two years, "Something that is an important cultural event that people can look forward to year in and year out, I think that strengthens the community... We're in our fourth year, we're just getting started. I hope over time it becomes a new Washington tradition that people look forward to and helps them enjoy their own city. That's what [the festival] is really about for me."

Photo Credit

Jean-Francois Kalka

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