DC Jazz Festival Plans for 2019 Detailed

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Sunny Sumter, DC Jazz Festival executive director, speaks Wednesday at The Pillsbury Law Firm Conference Center in Washington D.C., detailing the event’s programing.

(Photo: Michael J. West)

The DC Jazz Festival announced key elements of its 15th anniversary edition at The Pillsbury Law Firm Conference Center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

This year’s festival is set to run June 6-16 at various performance venues and other spaces around the city. Its previously announced headliners include the Joshua Redman Quartet with Aaron Goldberg, as well as Michael Franks, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Jon Batiste.

On Wednesday, DCJF executive director Sunny Sumter and artistic director Willard Jenkins announced several additional portions of the 2019 festival program. Foremost among these is a series of concerts at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts that will pay tribute to jazz masters of the past and present. On seven evenings during the festival, the Kennedy Center’s free Millennium Stage will present performances honoring Nat “King” Cole, the musical icon who would have turned 100 years old this year. Each evening will feature a different D.C.-based jazz pianist.

“A lot of people think of Nat Cole only as a vocalist,” Jenkins noted. “But Nat Cole was also one of the great pianists in the history of jazz music.”

The center also will present a piano showcase on June 9 in honor of another great jazz pianist, Randy Weston, the NEA Jazz Master who passed away in 2018. The series will culminate in a festival finale on June 16, “Great Masters of Jazz,” hosted by actor and musician Nick Cannon. In addition to paying tribute to the late D.C. jazz icon Shirley Horn, as well as to recently deceased jazz greats Nancy Wilson and Roy Hargrove, the event will bestow the festival’s lifetime achievement award on the legendary Quincy Jones.

For the fourth time, the DCJF will in 2019 hold its JazzPrix competition, a contest designed to showcase and support working bands. Bassist Kris Funn, the leader of 2018’s winning band Corner Store, announced 2019’s three finalists: the Ernest Turner Trio, led by North Carolina-based pianist Turner; Amy/Ana, a project co-led by D.C. pianist Amy K. Bormet and Los Angeles drummer Ana Barreiro; and MIXCLA + 1, a Boston quartet that blends jazz with music traditions of Chile, Cuba and Japan.

The festival also is deepening its long legacy of partnerships with the capital’s many foreign embassies, and this year will feature the affiliations during opening and signature events. The opening ceremony, featuring vocalist Sharón Clark along vibraphonist Stefon Harris and his band Blackout, will take place June 6 at the residence of the Ambassador of Denmark. The festival’s signature event, a weekend-long outdoor marathon on The Wharf will this year feature an international stage with artists from Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Russia and South Africa.

“We strive to reflect what we refer to as ‘the international language of jazz,’” said Jenkins. Accordingly, the DCJF also unveiled a new slogan: “Capital Sounds, Global Reach.”

Finally, Jenkins announced that the festival is continuing the artist-in-residence program, inaugurated last year with bassist Ben Williams. This year will feature drummer, composer, bandleader and educator Terri Lyne Carrington. As the capstone of her residency, Carrington will premiere a new work, “Social Science,” at The Wharf on June 16.

The DC Jazz Festival began in 2005—“on a paper napkin,” Sumter said—as the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, a four-day event concentrated around D.C.’s U Street corridor. Since then, it’s grown exponentially to become a 10-day, citywide festival with concerts in 27 neighborhoods. Wednesday’s event also celebrated that growth, which last year reportedly encompassed 110,000 attendees and an overall economic impact of about $22 million.

“That’s big,” Sumter said. “It is big for us, and it is big for D.C.” DB




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