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This year the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival adopts the notion that jazz is something that the whole family can enjoy—not just a music for over-21s and after-hours. Thus organizers Charlie and Michal Fishman planned Saturday as Jazz ‘n Families Fun Day, loaded with daytime concerts to bring the kids to.
1:30 p.m. – Smithsonian Sculpture Garden
Trumpeter Sean Jones is a rising star with a fluid sound. His quintet holds forth at the sculpture garden’s enormous fountain; along with the band, though, Jones presents three local trumpeters (Thad Wilson, Tom Williams, and De’Andre Schaefer) for a program of Dizzy Gillespie compositions. Their alternating solos on “Groovin’ High” showcase four marvelous, diverse styles: Wilson’s blasting strut, Williams’ conversational ostinato, Schaefer’s lyricism, Jones’ riffing. They fire off another round of spectacular eight-bar tradeoffs, then back to the head.
Around the bandstand are not only families with children of all ages, but people of all races, creeds, and walks of life. This is the kind of unity that jazz is all about.
3:00 p.m. – Sitar Arts Center
It shouldn’t be possible for a 12-year-old to be so steeped in the blues—yet here’s Tony Madruga, his pianistics drenched in them. He’s clearly been listening to modernist masters like Erroll Garner and Bud Powell, but has percussive power all his own…and chops far beyond his years.
So do his accompanists, Zach Brown (bass) and Sam Raim (drums). Indeed, Brown—whose curly hair and slight sneer resemble a chubby Napoleon Dynamite—has a fully formed, distinctive style, exploring the melodic possibilities of “St. Thomas” and “Georgia on My Mind” without departing from the four-to-the-bar walk. All these kids, playing to a small audience of their families, could be stars…but Brown most certainly.
4:00 p.m. – Atlas Performing Arts Center
Talk about family events! Drummer Nasar Abadey’s Supernova quintet is playing Atlas – and the opening act is the quartet of his 16-year-old also-drumming son Kush. It’s another ensemble of gifted teenagers: Caleb Lopez on tenor, Jon Lee on guitar, and Amin Saleem on bass. This time the standouts are Abadey and Lee. Abadey, though capable of formidable pyrotechnics, has a painstaking approach—you can see him carefully plotting each attack. Lee is obviously influenced by Frank Zappa, with wah-wah and distortion techniques direct from the Hot Rats playbook. He does spectacularly, though in a weaker moment he vamps one chord with the wah-wah and pretends to be doing something tougher.
Then comes Supernova, opening with the long “C.J.’s Ascent.” It’s a mournful, dense piece, like a postbop marzia funebre in its use of elegiac and hopeful sections. Joe Ford’s soprano has the declarative inflections of a eulogy, and the elder Abadey gives a low, cathartic drum solo that returns to the head before the band launches a gleeful rendition of Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane.”
Lots of face-painted kids run through the aisles. I hope they know what a treasure they’re witnessing.