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Though it’s programmed as a tribute to New Orleans, the sheer length of this year’s Duke Ellington Jazz Festival —- 11 days, June 5-15 —- necessitates a heavy reliance on local jazz musicians. I say this as if it’s a bad thing: DC has a very active and vibrant scene, and while you can certainly see them any time festival or no, how can a little extra focus on them be a bad thing?

Case in point: The main events for tonight, the Opening Night of the festival. They include:

  • Afro Blue, Howard University’s jazz vocal ensemble, at the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden (weather permitting);
  • Felix Contreras, drummer and NPR jazz reporter, with his trio at the Madison Hotel downtown;
  • a spoken word performance by DC Writers Corp at Busboys and Poets;
  • DC saxophonist Marshall Keys at Bohemian Caverns.

Keys, incidentally, will be followed by the local trio The Young Lions, the regular Friday-late-night entertainment at the Caverns. Allyn Johnson, the Lions’ pianist, was the featured player at a prelude concert last night at the Phillips Collection. I’ll plan to review both last night and tonight’s performances together.

(In fact I’ll once again be covering the entire festival from beginning to end, right here on Black Plastic Bag. Full schedule here.)