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Neither I nor anybody else has yet seen any of the official DC Jazz Festival program. So what you are about to read is a pre-emptive, subject-to-change analysis of what we’re about to see there.
So, pre-emptively speaking, let’s call this a rebuilding year.
That much was inevitable. Founder and longtime DCJF producer Charlie Fishman has moved into emeritus status, and veteran journalist/producer/advocate Willard Jenkins is now in the programming driver’s seat. By definition, the festival is in transition for the year, all the more so considering that Jenkins didn’t officially begin in the job until this calendar year. The nature of the jazz festival business means that much of the festival schedule was already booked by the time he came aboard. (Ever the professional, Jenkins says that he still takes ownership of this year’s entire festival.)
Having said that, there is a surprisingly small number of the too-frequent regulars that characterized so much of last year’s festival. Yet again, we see Paquito D’Rivera in what is probably the festival’s longest-running annual slot, and appearing with him is Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda who is also a repeat booking. Brad Linde‘s project Underwater Ghost is making its second appearance, though this one takes an odd turn: Last year the group was a headliner; this year it’s an opener. And Snarky Puppy, whom I noted was a repeat booking last year, is now on its third consecutive tour of duty. This is where it starts to get dangerous.
So what’s left after the reruns? A genuinely eclectic array. The always-fresh CapitalBop is one of the best and most ambitious presenters of music in town, especially when it comes to local music—but this year, it’s spotlighting three other jazz towns: Baltimore (the Gary Thomas, Warren Wolf, and Organix Trios), Los Angeles (Thundercat), and Chicago (the AACM 50th Anniversary). There’s a New Orleans brass band contingent, this time the Soul Rebels (top) rather than the expected Brass-A-Holics, and the usual coterie of international musicians from Lionel Loueke (Benin) to Elliott Hughes (Australia) to Nobuki Takamen (Japan).
There are also quite a few exponents of other genres, with varying connections to jazz. Hip-hop has a particularly strong contingent, with Common and D.C.’s own Christylez Bacon joining Tuesday’s annual “Jazz Meets Hip-Hop” concert with the W.E.S. Group. Afrobeat makes an appearance too, with Femi Kuti and Positive Force, and Francisco Mora Catlett’s AfroHORN does Afro-Latin jazz with an emphasis on the “Afro.”
But there’s also a wing dedicated to the jam-band scene, where improvised music meets rock (meets jazz): Guitarists John Scofield and Charlie Hunter, both of whom have jazz bona fides, veer into jam-rock territory this year. Scofield’s helming his Uberjam Band, and Hunter’s got a quartet that he co-leads with rock drummer Stanton Moore. Neither are my cup of tea, but they, like hip-hop, offer a possible foothold into jazz for people who aren’t already there. Jazz festivals frequently take criticism for including non-jazz acts, but bringing in new fans should be an important function of such festivals.
And, of course, the festival will feature a fantastic stable of purebred jazz talent the likes of Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison, the Cookers, the Bad Plus with Joshua Redman and too many others to call out here.
Suffice to say, it’s a festival with a great deal of variety, both on its own terms and in comparison with the last few years of the DCJF. Bring in some Dixieland and the spectrum is complete. (Random fact: In the early 1970s, the D.C. area was renowned for its traditional jazz scene.) That kind of sprawl is a plus for a major jazz festival—but it can also, if not carefully guided, turn into a mess. Will the fest, in this rebuilding year, cohere? Stay tuned.