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CapitalBop’s Jazz and Freedom Festival

“The venues,” says Shannon Gunn, “they hold the spirit of the music.” Since 2015, Gunn has been helping local jazz advocacy group CapitalBop organize their annual Jazz and Freedom Festival. She first pitched the festival as a way to promote locally focused nonprofits. “It’s cathartic for musicians to be able to use their art for social justice,” she says. Past recipients include ICE Out of DC, Black Lives Matter, and this year, jazz educators at the Washington Jazz Arts Institute. The festival couldn’t take place in person this year; instead, CapitalBop made a mini-docuseries about iconic venues that closed in 2020, including Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, Twins Jazz, and Columbia Station. “We were thinking about all the nonprofits we could help out,” Gunn says, “but there’s a huge problem right now in that all the venues are closing.” Others include Eighteenth Street Lounge, Marvin, and Sotto, and it’s unclear what will happen to Blues Alley, D.C.’s last full-time jazz venue. The docuseries mixes interviews and performance to make you feel like you’re in these storied spaces. CapitalBop’s managing director Jamie Sandel says that’s the idea, “to get one sliver of the magic that comes from listening to this music live.” Hear pianist Peter Edelman on the close-knit hangs at Columbia Station, or DeAndrey Howard on how growing up around D.C. jazz informed how he ran AJACS. Gunn appreciates how the Twins episode highlights bartender Wendy Whittington. “Jazz bartenders,” Gunn says, “keep things going. People don’t realize how much they’re the reason we can play at the venues because they just solve a lot of problems.” There’s a silver lining, though. Columbia Station moved all their music programming next door to Green Island Cafe, Twins Jazz has their foundation, and there are murmurs that AJACS could return. The documentaries are available on the CapitalBop YouTube channel. For more on Washington Jazz Arts Institute, visit wjai.org. Free.

This post has been updated to clarify Jamie Sandel’s position with CapitalBop.