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The 2010 DC Jazz Festival begins today—-though it’s probably appropriate to call it a “soft opening.” The first week of the festival is by and large nothing out of the ordinary for D.C. jazz; it’s the usual lineup of local musicians on their weekly club gigs, but under the aegis of the festival’s “Jazz in the Hoods” program. It’s probably somewhat helpful to the venues’ promotion efforts that they can slap a festival logo next to the names of their performers, but a jazz “festival” suggests special events that are, for these first few days, pretty sparse.

There is, however, one performer tonight who’s off the beaten path, and who seems to have been booked specifically for the festival: Etienne Charles, a 27-year-old trumpeter from the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Charles, who won the 2006 U.S. National Trumpet Competition (and also plays steel drums and cuatro, a small four-string guitar), locates his muse where so many others do: in the folk traditions of his homeland. Charles digs a bit deeper, though: Not only does his style of jazz use the rhythms, melodic devices, and vocal stylings of Trinidad, but his latest album—2009’s Folklore—is a panorama of the island’s oral and written mythology, exploring the stories and characters he grew up with against a backdrop of calypsos and other Caribbean spices. And he’s got a gorgeous sound to boot.

The best part: Charles’ performance tonight is free, part of the Kennedy Center‘s daily program on the Millennium Stage (in the Center’s grand foyer). The performance begins precisely at 6 p.m. and ends at 7.