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The Baylor Project at the DC Jazz Festival

The Baylor Project at the DC Jazz Festival

Courtesy thebaylorproject.com

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The Baylor Project
The District Wharf
The DC Jazz Festival
Washington, DC
September 3, 2022

The 18th Annual DC Jazz Festival (August 31—September 4, 2022) closed out five days of music with a weekend of spectacular performances at The District Wharf, an outdoor space teeming with restaurants, shopping and waterfront living. Considering that the world is still in the throes of a global health crisis and considering that the DC Jazz Festival had been scaled back for the past two years due to the the COVID-19 pandemic, how would audiences feel about less restrictions and more exposure? Who would show up? Was it too much too soon?

With the crowds and temperatures seemingly at record highs, it's safe to say crowds couldn't have been more ready. Artists including bassist Christian McBride and his band Inside Straight, the inimitable Ron Carter and his trio, Cindy Blackman-Santana, Mambo Legends Orchestra, Emmet Cohen, and DC's own Donvonte McCoy, Marc Cary featuring Kris Funn, and Heidi Martin are just a few of the performers who had The Wharf jumping this Labor Day weekend.

On Saturday, September 3, 2022, husband and wife duo Marcus and Jean Baylor brought their multi-award winning The Baylor Project to the Wharf's Transit Pier stage for a great night of music. The band, which included pianist Terry Brewer, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, saxophonist Keith Loftis , and bassist Richie Goods, in addition to Marcus on drums and Jean on vocals, performed music from The Baylors' newest recording The Evening: Live at Apparatus (Be A Light, 2022) in front of a capacity crowd.

With Jean's stunning beauty and powerhouse vocals and Marcus's charm, careful leadership and effervescent personality as the icing on a delicious cake, what's most engaging about the Baylor Project's performance was the palpable joy that emanated from the stage and the infectious quality it had on those blessed enough to bear witness.

Their performance of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was singularly the most exquisite piece of music played all weekend. Opened with a brief, but gospel-tinged piano intro that melded with rhythmic sax and trumpet, the song felt as funky and neo-soulish as something from the Robert Glasper Black Radio series or the late Roy Hargrove's RH Factor, but with a little more elegance. That elegance was part and parcel of Jean's contribution on vocals. Her sweet soprano is understated, but deliberate. As she sang, "Great is thy faithfulness/oh God my father... thou changest not, thy compassions/they fall not/as thou hast been/thou forever will be," it was as though she was acknowledging/sharing the gloriousness of freedom and favor.

That freedom colors how the Baylors approach the music; melding the soul of gospel with the warmth of R&B and the innovation of jazz, their music is not what anyone thinks it should be, but it's every bit of who they are. The favor, well, that's a gift. On "Tenderly" Brewer accompanied Jean as she vocally demonstrated what it means to interpret a lyric. It's easy. She doesn't try too hard and neither does Brewer. Her articulation and phrasing along with Brewer's soft touch on piano created a delicateness that sounded both tender and sweet, just as was intended. Eventually Marcus joined in with Goods and Loftis not far behind following Jean's lead every step of the way. What they created together was a sound that was equal parts classic and new. Jean brought the moment back to the spirit with a beautiful version of "Hallelujah" that again featured accompaniment by Brewer. Jean took liberties to flex her vocal chops and it was a great thing that she did.

Though she is the voice of the Baylor Project, it's easy for Jean's talent to be taken for granted for the sake of the whole. When she steps to the front of the stage, flat-footed with arms outstretched wide, however, one of the best voices in jazz music today rings out. What she can do with a lyric, the control she has over her instrument, her generosity and thoughtfulness is the stuff legends are made of.

The Baylor Project is not Jean Baylor alone. Marcus's vision for his wife, their collective artistry, and their ability to create from a place of authenticity was a risk well worth taking. Brewer, Loftis, Hendrix, and Goods offered excellent accompaniment that may have delivered something different with another group of guys. On that day and in that hour, those musicians were just what the evening and the music called for: they were everything. Let the church say, Amen!

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