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District Jazz

Washington, D.C. Reclaims its Role as a Jazz Destination

By Published: June 27, 2013
The good news is that new avenues of jazz coverage have opened up. Website Capital Bop publishes news, events and reviews. Other sites like DC Jazz (and the related Instant Seats) as well as District Jazz at All About Jazz (and its new Jazz Near You: DC ) fill the information gap with news, bios and event listings for the region. For informed in-depth blogs, jazz fans may visit Open Sky Jazz hosted by Willard and Suzan Jenkins.

Washington, DC: A Stop for Touring Jazz Artists

While national and international jazz promoters sometimes pull out their hair in frustration over the lack of solid jazz reporting, DC concert halls and clubs are filling seats with jazz fans, and new venues are opening. Change is in the air.

In 2011, jazz pianist Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
replaced the late Billy Taylor
Billy Taylor
Billy Taylor
1921 - 2010
as artistic adviser for jazz at the Kennedy Center. The New York-based touring artist says the District is an important destination for national and international players. "It's on the tour circuit," he says. "You go to New York, to Philly and to D.C. and it's a destination with a good audience for clubs. I'm inspired by what I see every time I drive into D.C."

When Moran comes to the Capital, he visits jazz joints around town. Besides those mentioned earlier, he hits the Atlas and HR-57 on H Street in Northeast and Columbia Station and Eighteenth Street Lounge in Adams Morgan.

The Kennedy Center and Other Major Cultural Institutions

As the nation's center for the performing arts, the Kennedy Center offers artistic excellence and cultural diversity, featuring many opportunities to hear music from many cultures. A healthy portion of their offerings involves jazz.

Moran is mixing things up even further. He hosted a free election-night concert fusing jazz and political history and a ticketed event pairing jazz with comedy. He is intrigued with the free Millennium Stage concerts. Presented at 6:00 p.m. 365 days a year, they host jazz and other genres. He says, "I want people to consider that the Kennedy Center is there for them to enjoy, just as you would a club around the corner. It belongs to them."

Two more major jazz presenters serving the nation's capital are Strathmore in nearby Bethesda, Maryland and the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS). Lacking a physical location for its pursuits, WPAS is an incredible collaborator, including jazz and jazz education in its offerings. WPAS is the largest presenter of cultural activities in D.C. Public Schools. Programs include the Capitol Jazz Project for middle schools in conjunction with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center with local saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk
Jeff Antoniuk
Jeff Antoniuk
sax, tenor
as master teaching artist leading his band, the Jazz Update.

Smithsonian Institution museums also present jazz. Check out the American Art Museum's Take 5! concerts on Thursdays. The National Gallery of Art presents jazz on Fridays in summer and universities around the beltway offer additional resources.

Moran says, "The city has the audiences that allow the artists to grow. You can see so many acts in one evening." He'd like to see a report assessing their cultural and economic value: "It's important," he says, "so that no one is under any delusions about who is coming and why they are there."

Top Jazz Destinations

What U.S. cities call out to Moran as a jazz artist? Those most familiar and important to him are New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.

Moran looks at a city's jazz scene through the artists who enliven it. "I always think about who does the city raise? Duke Ellington and Billy Taylor were people who became major mouthpieces for the music and swayed the opinions of millions," he says. "D.C. is a major central point because of the people it births." He does not feel a musician has to live and perform in New York to make a substantial contribution.

Jazz publications have been largely indifferent to players and events outside of the Big Apple yet continue to lose readership. Is there a connection? Jazz happens all over this country and all over the globe. Annual lists of jazz camps and festivals are useful, but don't make up for sparse regional reporting. Thus a paradigm shift has already begun.

Some national radio hosts cast a wider net. Jim Wilkes of "Jazz After Hours" and Mark Ruffin's "Real Jazz" at Sirius XM come to mind. A few years back, Ruffin featured excerpts from jazz festivals in many different cities in segments hosted by Monty Alexander
Monty Alexander
Monty Alexander
(the pianist has a festival in his own name in Easton, Maryland). Listeners were treated to the likes of genre crossing Chicago composer and trumpeter Orbert Davis
Orbert Davis
Orbert Davis
and excerpts from the Chicago Jazz Festival. What a great use of radio!

University Jazz Programs

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