Lena Seikaly at SandboX

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Though smaller and more tucked away than Blues Alley, upstart Georgetown venue SandboX is aiming to continue to make jazz accessible to potential fans around the city, putting the spotlight on the artists above all else. D.C. jazz artists Lena Seikaly and Sharón Clark headlined at SandboX during the Georgetown GLOW exhibition’s series of Friday and Saturday evening modern jazz concerts, which concludes Dec. 28. City Paper spoke with Seikaly and Clark about SandboX, live jazz in D.C., and their hopes for the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

WCP:As far as D.C.’s redeveloping live jazz scene, what are the benefits of jazz having a more relaxed presentation?

Lena Seikaly: In 2018, I spent most of the year on the road traveling nationally and globally. 2019 has been different as I’ve had about 90 percent of my gigs locally. I’ve been fostering my creativity more in gigs this year, so I like how relaxed much of D.C.’s scene is right now. Sometimes I do like a polished, Blues Alley-type show where it’s so quiet I can hear a pin drop. But the more organic events have their appeal, too.

WCP:How does jazz still fit into the profile of what the city is becoming?

Sharón Clark: Well, D.C. is still a jazz town. We have historic roots here. It’s always fascinating to me though, that when I travel overseas, the top players that foreign promoters ask about joining me that they think are from New York City, they’re actually from D.C. So, I always make sure to let people know that there are Grammy-winning, star performers here.

WCP:What are your thoughts about how a space like SandboX could fit into your own performing schedule?

LS: Every time I look, there’s somewhere new that’s popping up as a place for jazz. I have residency spots like Tabard Inn and Bertha’s where I’m a regular. I like what seems to be happening here at SandboX. It really feels like there’s a vision here for live jazz. Having that vision is definitely important. 

SC:D.C. is my home and I have a great and supportive fanbase. When I sing, there’s definitely a crowd. I’ve been playing at La Porta in Old Town Alexandria for 21 years, and 15 of my roughly 50 gigs in 2019 were here. I was traveling internationally a lot this year, but I am looking forward to seeing more of these newer spaces succeed.

WCP:What do you think are the best ways to develop a future jazz artists and future jazz audiences in D.C.?

SC: I have a regular jazz vocalist jam session that I want to evolve into a 501(c)(3)  in order to take it into the public schools here in D.C. Funding for music instruction and live music interaction has been cut in our schools, and that’s unfortunate. I’d love to expose youth in the city who are largely listening to rap and hip-hop, to jazz. I know that there are some great vocalists out there who just need the opportunity to be heard. I’d love to encourage that.

WCP: And why should we actively be checking for live jazz performances in D.C. right now?

LS: Jazz is cool. Once you get someone in the door, this interesting music, where there are all sorts of fascinating interplay, can be capitalized upon. Hip people making music for hip people to listen to will always discover an audience.

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