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It’s no secret that the DC Jazz Festival includes the regular lineup of local venues and gigs in the “Jazz in the Hoods” section of its annual calendar. Some of these are included by mutual agreement, some not. In 2007, when this writer first started covering the festival, a D.C. musician who was watching a performance at U-Topia perked up at the sight of my press pass. “The Jazz Festival!” He said. “I just found out I’m playing that!” What did he mean, just found out? “I opened up the schedule and there I was.”
He didn’t seem to mind being lumped into the festival without his knowledge. Some musicians and venues have been happy to have the promotion and have even asked to be added to the program; others are a bit less enthusiastic. (Notably missing from this year’s program are the listings at Blues Alley, the locus of some tension on this subject in previous years—-tension which this writer encountered firsthand during the 2010 festival.) That’s an issue for the parties involved to work out. One would expect, though, that the people running the festival would make it a point to know who was and was not in their program. Yet three times this week, I’ve encountered discrepancies between the festival’s schedule and the actual event in question.
One discrepancy was a typo on the DCJF website —- nothing to get riled up about. But the second involved an apparent confusion all around. What was listed on the festival website and program as “German Jazz All-Stars” on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage (featuring bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and pianist Jo Junghanss), was listed by Ken Cen as the Niggenkemper Trio, a decidedly multinational lineup. Festival staff deferred to the Kennedy Center: “We didn’t book that one, they did,” producer Charlie Fishman explained, “So whatever they say is what it is.” (A spokesperson for the Kennedy Center couldn’t be reached for comment.) As it turned out, the festival’s program was closer to the truth: Niggenkemper and Junghanss both appeared in a quartet with drummer Devin Gray and flugelhornist Volker Goetz, billed as “the 2011 German Academic All-Stars.” Goetz, to his credit, acknowledged that “there have been a few changes” to what was listed; still, the festival distancing itself from a concert in its own program was, well, disconcerting.
Last evening, during a correspondence with D.C. saxophone whiz Brian Settles—-whose trio has already performed once during the festival—-I mentioned that I was planning to go see him at the gig listed in the program for tonight at JoJo Restaurant & Bar on U Street NW. “I’m not playing JoJo tomorrow night,” Settles responded. “Not sure why they have me posted as such.” So much for my planned pick for tonight. (According to Fishman, a staffer didn’t confirm schedules with JoJo, as well as one other venue, but instead got their information from City Paper‘s listings for those locations. “We just have to live with it,” he adds.)
Helpful as the promotion might be to local artists and venues, it stands to reason that the people presenting and producing the festival shouldn’t place performances on their program without knowing what exactly those performances are, let alone whether they really exist. “You’re like the CIA,” Fishman joked after one of my repeat calls to his office for clarification. After another, “You’ve become the festival’s official fact-checker!” Should it be necessary to be a CIA-like fact-checker? The organization should reconsider the practicality of advertising, as part of the festival, jazz events that are not their own—-or at least of not getting accurate and up-to-date information on those events.