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District Jazz

DC Jazz Festival: June 1-13, 2011

By Published: June 30, 2011
"There are people going around to restaurants in New Orleans because of the storyline in Treme. There are people who have never left St. Charles Ave. going, 'I knew about those Indians around the corner in the 'hood, but now I hate to say it, but I'm from New Orleans and I never really understood the Indian.' It's not just outside, it's people there too. It's a rejuvenation of the culture in a way that people understand its importance. That in turn becomes very important because we are fighting forces in New Orleans that are trying to get rid of that very community that created that culture.

"Most of the rejuvenation and revival of New Orleans is coming from the ground up. It is happening in spite of the incompetence and shortsightedness of government. And because it is coming from the ground up—from the people of New Orleans—because of that the culture is vital and has played a vital part in it. What we understand more than many other places is the importance of culture and what culture is. What thoughts are to the individual, culture is to society as a whole. It's where we get to reflect on who we are and who we hope to be. It's a vital part of life."

Opening the second half of the concert with a second-line march, the band whipped the capacity crowd into a furor as it blasted-out a rousing rendition of "Caravan." Led by Big Chief Donald Harrison on saxophone, the band wound its way through the aisles of the Kennedy Center's main concert hall, stopping at one point to respond with a private solo to one boisterous audience member's shouted "Go Big Chief, Go!"

By the time the band made it to the stage, not a single member of the 2,400 person crowd was left sitting, nor would they for the remainder of the concert. Taking control of the show, the Rebirth Brass Band
Rebirth Brass Band
Rebirth Brass Band

proceeded to deliver one explosive tune after another, mixing classics like "Mardis Gras" with pop tunes, like "What Goes Around," and originals like "Feel like Funkin' it Up." Combining traditional swing with funk beats, hip-hop vocals, and a free-wheeling style, the band erupted with energy, quickly working the crowd into a frenzy that never seemed to plateau. Urged on by the band, the audience clapped, stomped, and shouted lyrics in time to the beats, everywhere you looked there was movement as kerchiefs waived from the packed balconies, couples danced first in the rows, then in the aisles.

Then, just when it seemed impossible for the energy level to rise any further, the band launched into the theme from Treme, igniting the crowd to further heights. Inspired, one couple literally ran down the center aisles, leapt onto the stage and began to swing-dance. In a flash, more followed, filling the stage and aisles with a dense pack of swinging, swaying bodies, as everyone laughed, clapped, and swung as the band closed out the show with the joyful sounds of Mardi Gras anthem, "Do Whatcha Wanna."

Leaving the show, one couldn't help but notice the grinning faces, the uplifted conversations, and the sense of togetherness birthed by the night's shared experience. The vitality of New Orleans' music and culture, displayed over the course of the night, proved not only a volatile intoxicant resulting in the most raucous, rambunctious, and communal experience to have occurred in the history of the Kennedy Center's many jazz performances, but also underscored the power of authentic culture to inspire and the hunger we all have for access to it.

Or, as Pierce summarized, "We've lost that sense of what culture is...It is entertaining, but it's not entertainment. Entertainment is a byproduct of culture. Culture is when you go and reflect on your existence... Anyone who came to this concert tonight will now not think of New Orleans without thinking about this night."


The 2011 DC Jazz Festival's series of events—from the small club dates, to the packed music halls—allowed audiences to sample the vast territory that is modern jazz, and to participate in a unique form of self-expression that is both an act of the individual artist and dependent on the collective experience. Though it happens only once a year, this shared experience has helped foster a renewed and ever-stronger jazz community in DC, as well as connect this community to musicians across the country. In an age of homogeneous, prepackaged, and thoroughly market-tested entertainment, the sprawling variety and communal spirit of the DC Jazz Festival stands as a reminder of the powerful role live, improvised music can play in defining a distinct culture and community.

Photo Credit

Top/Page 1: Greg "Fritz" Blakey

All Others: Franz Matzner

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