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DC Jazz Festival 2012: In Memoriam Chuck Brown

DC Jazz Festival 2012: In Memoriam Chuck Brown
Franz A. Matzner By

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DC Jazz Festival, Washington, DC June 1-10, 2012

With the summer heat descending on the nation's capital, the city transforms, its southern personality asserting itself. Ties loosen, linen suits make their first appearance, people mosey instead of dash, and the beats of jazz reverberate from venue after venue as the city welcomes the annual DC Jazz Festival with open arms.

Celebrating the vibrant past, present, and future of DC's music scene, the 2012 festival once again put forth an expansive array of music, including everything from big-name vocalists, to big bands, to the more obscure avant-garde. Now in its eighth year, the festival has become an entrenched Washington institution. It has an established structure that blends new and familiar performers as well as a successful track record of delivering a mix of styles and genres designed to appeal to a variety of audiences. The festival also has become large enough that its pattern of recycling performers from previous years has converted a downside into a positive. Since it is now impossible to see everything worth seeing in just one round, if you miss something one year, there's a chance you'll get a second bite at the apple the next.

The 2012 festival once again boasted an impressive series of headline acts, the majority of which were presented at the Hamilton, a new, upscale venue on the scene. Performers included pianists Randy Weston and Monty Alexander, festival stalwart, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and guitarist John Scofield. Singer Diane Reeves also performed at the Howard Theater, while the Jazz in the 'Hood series filled the city's clubs and restaurants with a plethora of additional acts, including many local artists.

In keeping with founder Charlie Fishman's focus on education, the festival continued to offer the Jazz 'n Families series, hosted by the Phillips Collection. This innovative program offers two full days of music for families, giving parents and children an opportunity to listen and learn during the daylight hours. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the festival united with Capitol Bop for the second year to present late night concerts by cutting edge voices of modern jazz, including, pianist Marc Cary, Tarbaby and saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed. Expanded this year to include an all day and night mega-concert, the Capitol Bop Loft Series is fast becoming one of the festival's central attractions.

Jazz Meets the Classics

The festival also partnered with the Kennedy Center, which hosted a series on its free Millennium Stage as well as what has become a cornerstone of the festival, a performance by the festival's artistic advisor, saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera. Dubbed "Jazz Meets the Classics," this year's program featured both the Classical Jazz Quartet and Paquito D'Rivera Sextet for an evening devoted to blending jazz and classical music. While not as successful as his 2010 Jelly Roll Morton Latin Tinge Project, D'Rivera, with the help of arranger Michael Phillip Mossman, delved into the classical tradition of Bach, Chopin, and Mozart, infusing each with his inimitable sense of humor, Latin rhythms, and intellectual prowess. The sextet opened with two pieces by Chopin, "Fantaisie Impromptu" and "Prelude in E minor," giving both airy island rhythms while sustaining Chopin's singular melancholic color and lushness of development underneath. After a rendition of Mozart's Magic Flute on clarinet, the group turned to the Adagio from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, coyly converting the original into a Dixieland blues driven by Alex Brown's excellent piano work. After a sojourn with Beethoven, the band then closed out the set with two Bach compositions, both of which aptly manipulated Bach's precise structures-inverting and twisting the lines while maintaining their core sense of organization and clarity. As with everything D'Rivera touches, the overall result of the set was simultaneously full of vibrant, positive energy, musically challenging, and deftly crafted.

The music was then briefly put on pause to present a series of annual awards. Both pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Ron Carter were honored for their lifetime contributions to the music. The Washington Post and local club owner Omrao Brown, whose Bohemian Caverns continued as a hub for the festival's club series, received awards in turn for their work to promote jazz. The night then proceeded with the Classical Jazz Quartet, as it delved into a series of classical and jazz compositions, delivering a quite different approach than the sextet's. Intriguingly, Bach once again dominated the classical works, the group applying its stately voice to the master composer's visions.

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