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District Jazz

DC Jazz Festival 2012: In Memoriam Chuck Brown

By Published: July 22, 2012
The festival expanded to a number of new venues in 2012, including linking with the Atlas Theater's newly minted jazz series to showcase saxophonist Mark Turner
Mark Turner
Mark Turner
sax, tenor
's Quartet, which turned out to be both a highlight and an example of the diversity that makes up the festival. Joined by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire
Ambrose Akinmusire
Ambrose Akinmusire
, bassist Joe Martin
Joe Martin
Joe Martin
bass, acoustic
and drummer Chris Persad Group, The Dautaj, Marcus Gilmore , Coquito, Fri, Turner led the audience on an excursion into the sober terrain that is his hallmark. The quartet delivered an expertly paced set, with all four members blending their voices seamlessly. Particularly intriguing was the tune "Sonnet for Stevie," on which Turner and Akinmusire alternately interwove and interlocked their horn lines to shape elaborate formations evoking wind-carved rocks and valleys. Equally compelling was "Brother-Sister II," where the two players evolved lush horn lines and elongated solos that floated together like sea creatures dancing in the deep dark expanses, illuminated intermittently by the flare of their own phosphorescence. Throughout the night, Turner delivered far-ranging solos, which, though coiling out into the stratosphere, often returned to a similar cool, calm center, giving his work a sense of continuity and gravity. A deliberate composer and player, Turner's music evokes epochal time spans and continuities that unfold over vast distances, emotional landscapes that can only be formed by the erosion of time and an introspective mind.

In Memoriam: Chuck Brown

As is often the case, it was the unplanned moment that became this year's signature event. Sadly, just before the festival opened, DC innovator Chuck Brown, the "Godfather of Go-Go," passed away. In a burst of inspiration, festival organizers were able to mount a moving memorial concert to this beloved DC figure, featuring New Orleans phenomenon Brass-a- Holics, united with several guest artists.

Accepted as the founder of the Go-Go funk subgenre, guitarist/vocalist Brown was a local legend who inspired a homegrown musical phenomenon that defined Washington, DC's club scene for decades. A blend of funk, rock, Gospel, big band, and hip hop, Go-Go concerts were know for long nights, riotous rhythms, a unique aesthetic, and loyal fans. It also turns out that Go-Go's influence may be more widespread than often acknowledged; a fact underscored by Winston Turner, front man for the Brass-a-Holics. Speaking about the Brass-a-Holics' own genre blending style when they appeared at the festival the previous year, Turner explained that at heart the rhythms and call-and-response structures of Go-Go are closely related to the fundamental structures of New Orleans jazz. That, he added was why he felt such a strong connection to DC and was proud to be invited to play the festival.

That pride and connection was clearly evident when Brass-a-Holics took the Hamilton stage for the demanding task of performing a memorial concert to a dominantly DC audience. Showing no hesitation, the band launched immediately into a series of its patented style-bending tunes. After a rousing version of the original "I Had a Good Night" and an extended battle of horns, the notoriously staid DC audience was clapping and shouting in its seats. A few moments more of the band's forceful drums, blasting horns, driving keyboards, and rollicking vocals and the crowd was on its feet. But for incorrigible showmen like Turner and his band mates, that was not enough. Expertly working the crowd, Turner used call-and-response to foster still more engagement, showing great humor with his banter. The band then turned out a genuinely rousing mix of funk beats, hip-hop inflections, and old-fashioned New Orleans brass lines, refusing to stop until it had the audience dancing between the tables and at the front of the stage.

By the time Brass-a-Holics concluded a boisterous take on "O.P.P.," hardly a seat was still occupied. The band then stepped back and began the culmination of its opening set, a jazz funeral march for Brown. Starting with a heartfelt statement by Turner, explaining that the band wanted to do something special for veteran performer, he narrated a detailed description of how a New Orleans funeral proceeds for the crowd. As he described the funeral service, the traditional parade, and the history behind the music, the band members slowly began to play, marching through the crowd. Together, the group then initiated a musical eulogy for Brown that built from a slow march and an uplifting rendition of the traditional New Orleans funeral frontline to a medley of funk-themed tunes, all transformed into a Go-Go- inspired tribute befitting the musical legacy of Chuck Brown and the endless party he inspired.

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