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That’s right, folks, it’s time once again for the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. The Paul Carr-driven heir to the late East Coast Jazz Festival is now in its third year, and like any great annual event it’s both growing and getting better with each iteration. Hence, while there are a few scattered jazz events going on elsewhere, we’re going to take it as a given that the Hilton Rockville Hotel and Conference Center (1750 Rockville Pike) is the place to be for jazz this weekend. Here are the highlights:
Friday, Feb. 17 Those interested in the social issues of jazz will want to start with the 6 p.m. panel discussion in the festival’s Billy Taylor room, “Where’s the Black Audience for Jazz?” Moderated by Willard Jenkins—-the local jazz writer and producer with a particular passion and strong opinions on that issue—-it also includes the valuable insights of three local jazz musicians: drummer Nasar Abadey, trumpeter Michael Thomas, and drummer Winard Harper.
Harper, a staggeringly good drummer with a supremely tight swing, doesn’t work on the traps alone. The Maryland native is also a skilled player of the West African balafon and other assorted percussion instruments, and the leader of a wonderful sextet that includes saxophonist Brian Horton, trumpeter Patrick Rickman, pianist Kelvin Sholar, bassist Ameen Saleem, and percussionist Alioune Faye. Swing is only their starting point: They skyrocket from that foundation to a futuristic, world-percussion unit that sounds as joyous and unique as anything you’re likely to hear. They perform at 8:30 p.m. on the Ronnie Wells Main Stage.
Speaking of joyous, Carmen Bradford is an altogether ecstatic singer, the kind who seems so thrilled to be in front of the microphone that it’s almost instantly infectious to the audience. She functions best at the helm of a big band—-perhaps the only configuration that can keep up with her outsize musical charisma. In this case, it’s the specially formed Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Orchestra, directed by Carr and featuring the stellar Philadelphia trumpeter Terrel Stafford at 10 p.m. on the Main Stage.
Don’t forget the late night jam session in the MAJF club, led this night and all others by the Wes Biles Trio.
Saturday, Feb. 18 The daytime part of Saturday belongs to the Jazz Band Competiton, a contest between bands from eight high schools in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Michigan. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re all high school bands: These competitions are cutthroat affairs between serious young musicians who are hard-working, highly skilled, and—-perhaps most importantly—-hungry. The bands begin playing the first round at 9:30 a.m. in the atrium; at 2:30 p.m., while the judges deliberate, last year’s winner (Bethesda’s Walter Johnson High School) and runners-up perform; the finals hit at 5 p.m. on the Main Stage.
Immediately following on the Main Stage is vibraphonist and drummer Warren Wolf, about whom I wrote in City Paper‘s Spring Arts Guide. Consider this a sneak preview of the talented percussionist’s March performance at Bohemian Caverns, well worth your time at 7 p.m.
And then, of course, there’s Roy Haynes. In all likelihood jazz’s greatest living drummer, Haynes sounds as great and vibrant as ever at 85. As if to show it off, his band is made up of much, much younger musicians (The Fountain of Youth Band: saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianist Martin Bejerano, bassist David Wong) who have their work cut out for them just trying to keep up. See for yourself on the Main Stage at 10 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 19 On Sunday, three of the finest female talents in the District all have can’t-miss performances.
Lydia Lewis, a recent arrival on the scene, is an outstanding drummer (what a festival for drummers this is turning out to be!) who’s a top call for gigs around town. She’s also a bandleader and composer in her own right, well represented by her outstanding disc Cosmic Collisions that came out last fall. She leads a small ensemble featuring an incredible array of musicians: pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Kris Funn, and vocalist Lena Seikaly, at 2 p.m. in the MAJF Club.
Integriti Reeves is a young singer with a sparkling, clear voice who is part of the beloved Afro-Blue ensemble, but also a soloist with great seasoning as a performer, particularly around her native Washington. She, too, performs with an excellent small trio: Amy Bormet on piano, Eric Wheeler on bass, and Warren Wolf on drums. That’s at 4 p.m. in the Billy Taylor Room. (An interview with Reeves will appear later today on Arts Desk.)
Then comes Lori Williams. Like Carmen Bradford, she’s a singer clearly brimming with happiness to be singing. But hers is a more intimate sound, confessional, functioning on nuance as well as energy. (She’s got tremendous helpings of both.) No, it’s not the boisterous enthusiasm of Bradford; it’s a softer, subtler pleasure. But a pleasure it is. Williams performs at 7 p.m. on the Main Stage.
And, finally, the concert that this writer considers the Big Event, although it’s a small ensemble. The Paul Carr Quintet comes about when festival director Carr rounds up a group of ace all-stars, local, regional and national, for a red-hot bebop session. The Quintet features Carr on tenor sax, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Joey Calderazzo on piano, DC giant Michael Bowie on bass, and New York favorite Lewis Nash on drums. I can’t recommend the concert strongly enough, so don’t skip it. 10 p.m. on the main stage.