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Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton was living in Washington in 1938, running a U Street club (in the building that now houses Ben’s Next Door), when he was invited by Alan Lomax to record his reminiscences at the Library of Congress. Morton had a lot to say—-over eight hours’ worth—-and not all of it was true, but most of it had incredible insight into the origins and early of jazz. Among his pronouncements was one of history’s most quoted lines about the music’s early influences: “If you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.“
Morton was actually referring to elements of Latin American rhythm and phrasing —- those from Cuba in particular —- that was widespread currency in Morton’s hometown of New Orleans. Thus “the Latin Tinge” would be a good modern-day label.
With that in mind, the DC Jazz Festival has commissioned a new set of Latin-tinged arrangements of Morton’s songbook, arranged by trumpeter Michael Phillip Mossman and performed tonight in a world premiere by The Jelly Roll Morton Latin Tinge Project.. Cuban-born Paquito D’Rivera‘s clarinet and saxophone will lead an ensemble that includes Mossman, percussionist Pernell Saturnino, and a string quartet led by cellist Akua Dixon. It’s a closer look, the festival says, at “early connections in the development of jazz between Cuba and New Orleans.” By all indications, a winner. The Jelly Roll Morton Latin Tinge Project premieres in 5:30 and 7:30 sets at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW. $38.