Jazz Avenues

Duke Ellington School of the Arts graduate Marc Cary (left), shown here back in the day with piano legend McCoy Tyner, returns home to play at THEARC in Southeast DC for the East River Jazz Festival, June 25-26. Photo: Marc Cary

“Jazz in Washington” a Valuable Memoir

Many interesting tidbits about Duke Ellington and the early 20th-century jazz scene in Washington, as well as remembrances by W.A. “Bill” Brower and other historians about the city and music since then, highlight the Historical Society of Washington’s special publication “Washington History: Jazz in Washington.” It was released this spring, with many of us getting a copy on April 28 at the University of the District of Columbia’s Calvin Johnson Big Band Festival, and is available at www.historydc.org.

Only $20, a bargain at twice the price, it is a must-have for jazz aficionados and also those African-Americans and those of all races interested in the social and cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries that formed the framework and impetus for a city now well known for its musical legacy:

“Shortly after Ellington returned from his first tour as Jazz Ambassador, Dizzy Gillespie set his sights on a new residence in Ellington’s hometown, namely the White House. Although Gillespie embarked on his presidential campaign in jest, his underlying message was completely serious: American politics needed new energy. Gillespie promised that if elected, he would rename the White House “the Blues House” and appoint a stellar cabinet: Duke Ellington as secretary, Peggy Lee as labor chief, and Miles Davis as director of the CIA.”

Elsewhere in the journal W.A. “Bill” Brower says this about the Capital City Jazz Festival, forerunner of the DC Jazz Festival and others we now enjoy:

“The first festival that we did – 1985 – we opened up with Miles Davis and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Convention Center. It was around Miles’s birthday and we gave him a big cake … We did a lot of great shows. We did M’Boom and the World Saxophone Quartet, Little Jimmy Scott with Milt Jackson, Betty Carter, Tito Puente and Paquito D’Rivera and we had a Latin jam session with local Latin cats … We had Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela.”

Byron Morris, one of our master saxophonists, flutists, and bandleaders, who is in a photo in “Jazz in Washington” with his band Unity from a 2000 Blues Alley performance, says “I was flattered that I am in the journal … you always hear about great players being from Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York … and I think DC needs to get its props, to be there [as having a great legacy] with all the other places.”

One fascinating chapter, “Jazz Radio in Washington,” is related by Rusty Hassan of WPFW-FM radio. Hassan talks about programmers like Paul Anthony, Nap Turner, and Jimmie Gray, as well as Felix Grant, whose jazz archives at the University of the District of Columbia bear his name. Hassan mentions other personalities and radio highlights and recalls many stations that had jazz at one time, where today there is basically just WPFW.

DC Jazz Festival Celebrates 10th year

The DC Jazz Festival celebrates its10th anniversary during June 24-29 at various venues and events around town, including the East River Jazz Series, which has our young man of all genres, homeboy pianist Marc Cary, headlining shows at the Anacostia Playhouse on June 25 and at THEARC on June 26. For complete information go to www.dcjazzfestival.org.

In Person … “Elements of Life” CD Party

One night in May featured a lot of jazz and a healthy dose of reggae rhythms when trombonist Reginald Cyntje’s group filled the room at Dukem Restaurant on U Street with sounds from its recent “Elements of Life” CD. Tenor saxophonist Brian Settles was in special form, forging full-bodied solos on several of the CD’s tunes, such as “Earth,” and vocalist Christie Dashiell shone on “Skylark.” Bassist Kris Funn and drummer Amin Gumbs and pianist Mark Meadows helped spread the vibe that “Elements of Life” is adding a special element to our musical universe.

June Highlights: Jazz Samba Project, May 31-June 15, Strathmore Music Center, Mansion… Pharoah Sanders, June 5-8, Blues Alley … Iqua & Steve Colson Quintet, June 8, Bohemian Caverns … Kenny Nunn Band, June 12, Twins Jazz … Sakota Fujii Trio, June 15, Bohemian Caverns … George Colligan, June 18, Blues Alley …  Herb Scott, Elijah Balbed, June 19, Twins Jazz … Karrin Allyson, June 19-21, Blues Alley … Houston Person, June 20-21, Bohemian Caverns … DC Jazz Festival, June 24-29, various venues … Nordic Jazz Festival, June 24-29, Twins Jazz … Marc Cary SE Dance Jam, June 25, Anacostia Playhouse … Marc Cary, Retrospective Suite, June 26, THEARC Theater … David Sanchez, June 27-28, Bohemian Caverns … Jazz@Wesley/Kush Abadey, Corcoran Holt, Benito Gonzalez, June 28, Wesley United Methodist Church … Gary Bartz, June 29, Bohemian Caverns … Integriti Reeves, June 13, Westminster Presbyterian Church …

June Birthdays: Josephine Baker, Dakota Staton 3; Oliver Nelson, Anthony Braxton 4; Monty Alexander 5; Jimmie Lunceford, Grant Green 6; Tal Farlow, Tina Brooks 7; Kenny Barron 9; Chick Corea, Geri Allen 12; Jaki Byard, Erroll Garner 15; Lucky Thompson 16; Eric Dolphy 20; Jamil Nasser 21; Milt Hinton 23; Reggie Workman 26; Andrew Hill 30.

Steve Monroe is a Washington, DC, writer who can be reached at steve@jazzavenues.com and followed at www.twitter.com/jazzavenues.