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Scenes from the 2024 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival


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The greatest gift any music festival can give a listener is the chance to think about a genre differently and the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival did just that between February 16 and February 18.

Most concert goers attend a show to hear a specific artist they are already familiar with, but the beauty of a festival is that it can expose you to many different styles in the span of a weekend. Across several stages at the Hilton Hotel in Rockville, the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival showcased Brazilian music, New Orleans jazz to traditional big band. The festival was centered around the "Year of the Big Band" but each of the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night shows on the main stage featured fantastic guest vocal performances.

The Saturday and Sunday concert days were highlighted by two tremendous vocalists, Lisa Fischer and Kurt Elling. Elling's "vocalese" treatment of tunes by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane was especially impressive. Adding vocals to instrumental jazz songs is difficult since they take what is originally an abstract instrumental piece that listeners can interpret for themselves into the realm of metaphor and more concrete statements of meaning and intent. Elling's interpretations of music, like his version of "A Love Supreme," are inspired by poetry so they still have a bit of abstraction that can often be completely lost when adding lyrics to a song. Elling's ability to work and connect with a crowd was in top form, getting the crowd of several hundred people to laugh about his stories of hanging out with Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, and other moments of a life in jazz.

Vocalist Lisa Fischer immediately won over the crowd as a guest star with the Orrin Evans Captain Black Big Band. Her commanding stage presence on songs like "Dambala" and "Blues in the Night" mesmerized the crowd as she moved across the stage to connect with the whole audience. The group even got the crowd to sing along for the closing song "I'm so Glad I got to know you."

Other highlights included Friday performances from the New Jazz Underground, famous for its viral YouTube clips, along with Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. Marsalis's group played several cuts from their latest album Uptown on Mardi Gras Day. along with covers of Fats Domino's "Snowball" and other classics.

On Saturday the Paul Carr Jazz Collective showed that Carr, the organizer of the festival, is as good at performing as he is running a festival. Vocalist Vanessa Rubin took over the group at one point giving directions for some great performances of tunes like the McCoy Tyner and Sammy Khan collaboration "You Taught Me to Sing." Other notable performances on Sunday were more focused on instrumentals. The Ebban Dorsey showcased their melodic tunes on one of the festival's smaller stages. Fellow Baltimore musician Warren Wolf presented his "History of the Vibes" show presenting music from notable vibraphonists from Bobby Hutcherson to Gary Burton. Students ranging from high schools like the Camden Creative Arts High School and the North Carolina Central University Jazz band also got to perform for an audience of jazz fans and musicians. NCCU performed one piece that is almost completely lost "Guess Whose in Love" by Ray Abrams.
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