The Duke Ellington Jazz Festival is in full swing here in D.C. this week, with over 100 performances in 35 venues around the city. This year’s festival celebrates the music of New Orleans, and has a roster of artists — Harry Connick Jr., Buckwheat Zydeco, Trombone Shorty — that would make any jazz-hound swoon. While the huge, talent-packed event at the Kennedy Center this coming Monday is sold out, they’ll be plenty of (free!) jazz performances on The Mall this weekend, and restaurants and clubs throughout D.C. are hosting acts as part of Jazz in the Hoods. I spoke with the festival’s founder, Charles Fishman, yesterday about the events, and in the spirit of jazz, he riffed a bit with me about how it’s come together.
“The first year we did three concerts and had programs in 11 different clubs, this year we have over 100 performances in 35 different venues in the city. Jazz in the Hood is going into restaurants, clubs, hotels, and galleries. Some of these places do jazz, but many of them don’t. It’s pretty overwhelming — people keep calling us and saying they want to be involved. Working with all these clubs, it’s very encouraging to see what the response has been.
“Jazz is the one of the only original American art forms. You need to expose people to jazz: They hardly hear it on the radio, they never see it on television, and the record studios aren’t doing diddly squat. These festivals are becoming a force.
“To have two full days on the National Mall for such renowned musicians from New Orleans is an amazing opportunity. I think we’re the first jazz festival to dedicate our festival to another city. With the exception of our artistic advisor – everybody is from New Orleans. Essentially we’re offering a virtual microcosmic cornucopia of the diversity of the musical heritage of New Orleans, which has driven American culture. But unfortunately, many immortal jazz artists are more appreciated out of this country than in this country.”
Fishman encourages anyone coming into D.C. this weekend to make their way to The Mall, and be sure to check out U Street, where much of the city’s jazz history is found. As our interview/jam session ended, I thanked him for his time. “That’s what we do, we jazz baby,” he said with a laugh.
Photo: Duke Ellington Jazz Festival