D.C.’s U Street has long been a proud home for America’s classical music, dating back to the days of Duke Ellington when the neighborhood featured one of the nation’s most vibrant and productive jazz scenes.
Today, the street maintains its artistic reputation, but the culture has changed. Only two full time jazz clubs—Twins and Bohemian Caverns—remain on U Street, and their cover charges often put them out of reach for students. Georgetown’s lone jazz attraction, Blues Alley, is even more exclusive, with the price for a weekend ticket regularly topping $40.
But now one restaurateur is looking to capture the younger, more cash-strapped segment of the District audience.
Beginning this Thursday, the popular U Street Ethiopian restaurant Dukem will play host to a weekly jazz jam, spotlighting local and regional talent. More exciting than a new venue in northwest D.C. is that you won’t spend any money until you get to the bar—there’s no cover.
“We’re trying to take issue with the crazy conventional wisdom that jazz is dead, catch on with the millennials, and be a part of the energy on U Street,” he said.
Russonello notes that the restaurant is basically a ready-made jazz club already. “Dukem is a wise choice in part because of its location, and also because it’s already got some logistics in order: Thursday-night performers at Dukem will work from a stage already built into the restaurant. They’ll pick up at 9 and play until midnight,” he wrote.
Duke Ellington may have first formed his big band 90 years ago, but his sensual melodies and complex, layered compositions still feel fresh alongside his contemporaries of the digital age.
Want proof? Come support the Georgetown University Jazz Ensemble in its Fall 2013 Concert tomorrow at 8 p.m. in the Gonda Theater.
This fall’s show is an all-Ellington set, highlighting some of his most recognizable tunes. The concert’s highlights will include hits like “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, “Caravan,” “Portrait of Louis Armstrong,” “Symphony in Riffs,” “The Mooche,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “I’m Just a Lucky So and So,” and many more.
This is the first time the GU Jazz Ensemble has decided to devote an entire show to a single composer. According to the band’s president, James Paulose (COL ’14), they decided it was about time, in order to “honor one of the most influential figures in American music, hailing from right here in Washington, D.C.”
Ellington’s compositions are famous for their lush harmonies and distinct sense of swing, and Paulose says it’s especially difficult to capture the exact dignified, bluesy sound.”Every piece requires the utmost focus from each musician,” he said. “Ellington was unique in that he wrote parts for the individual members of his ensemble based on their particular skills and style, and so we will also be honoring the talented members of his band by recreating their performances.
If you’re in dire need of something to brighten the somber season of midterms, Vox has the perfect prescription: a light, feel-good concert in the District.
Native Chicagoans Natalie and Elliot Bergman make up the duo known as Wild Belle. The siblings have a long history with music, as their parents were musicians and introduced them to music at a very early age. The older sibling, Elliot, is especially talented with instruments. While studying at the University of Michigan, he started an Afrobeat band called NOMO, in which he played saxophone, percussion, electric mbira, and electric sawblade gamelan.
Since NOMO, Bergman has been commended as a highly sophisticated and creative composer. Critics say “his charts reveal a canny knowledge of song forms that come from jazz, soul, and blues and employ a keen, elegant sense of dynamic and texture.”
NOMO‘s jazz and Afrobeat influence have clearly made their way into Elliot’s new project with his sister, especially since Natalie often guest-performed with the band on its tour. Being siblings, the two have influenced each other’s music lives for years. Wild Belle, however, is their first official collaboration in which they put their individual and unique musical experiences together for the creation of something entirely different.
Whether you’re a bona fide jazzhead or just need somewhere to impress that cutie you met during NSO, D.C. has you covered. From big band favorites to bossa and bop, the District has it all. Here are Vox’s top picks for some swingin times that won’t break the bank:
For students on a budget, it’s hard to beat the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra. These cats play two sets every Monday night at — you guessed it — Bohemian Caverns. They’re D.C.’s only resident big band, and believe us when we say they swing HARD. It’s ten bucks for both sets, there’s no drink or food minimum, and the basement club actually looks like a cave. The action starts at 8:00 on the corner of 11th and U St., but get there early to grab a seat. Unlike some other clubs, the Caverns isn’t 21 and up, but you’ll need a fake to buy a drink if you aren’t of age. If you’re too angsty to get out on a Monday, Bohemian’s got top-notch acts coming through every weekend as well, although they usually cost quite a bit more.
If ten dollars is still stretching it, keep an eye out for jam sessions at Columbia Station, HR-57, the D.C. Jazz Loft, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. If there’s anything that deserves the title of “real D.C. jazz” it’s these communal gigs chock full of local talent. The Loft is especially cool, bringing the District’s best to a hip, DIY style location on the second Sunday of each month. And if you play, drag your horn down to a jam and test your chops. As one critic told me, “There’s never any negativity on this scene”, so don’t be shy!
In this week’s feature, Gavin Bade dives into the District’s jazz scene, from Columbia Heights to U Street, and Duke Ellington to H Street NE:
Even if it is a smaller, less prestigious scene, D.C. has certain elements that New York lacks. “There is a lot of truth to the idea that in New York people are just playing chops all the time, and trying to sound all wild and out and on the next thing when they’re really sort of on their own thing,” Russonello said. “Whereas in D.C., it’s like, ‘Alright, what can everyone get together around? What can we all connect with?’” New York may have a reputation for more innovation in the music, but the D.C. scene offers “music that is both for the musicians and the audience.”
On the editorials page, the ed board hopes the University community uses Saturday’s planned conferral of an honorary degree on D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92, G ’07) as an opportunity to examine her complex record of education reform in the district.
In News, Connor Jones reports on student-led efforts to convince the University to influence Adidas to pay severance to 2,800 workers recently laid off from an Indonesian factory that supplied the apparel company.
For Leisure, Mary Borowiec profiles the glitter-based art of Julien Isaacs (SFS ’12), whose new exhibit Divine Chaos is on display at the Adams Morgan coffeehouse Tryst until the end of May. “For me it has been about capturing that light in my art. Glitter does that. It is a little piece of heaven,” Isaacs said.
For his final issue as the secretive editor of Page 13, Rob Sapunor offers a campus plan that will satisfy zero of the neighbors (and only half of the campus’ bulldog population), just like any other proposed campus plan that does not include Georgetown relinquishing its status as a residential university.
And finally in Voices, Keaton Hoffman calls for 21st-century development and humanitarian efforts that harness the powerful optimism of youth voices and shrug off the cynicism of academic and media elites.
While you really shouldn’t have time to see shows this weekend, we have the perfect guide to procrastinate. And if you promised yourself those days of putting off work are a thing of the past, just consider these concerts long study breaks.
Friday: See D.C. rockers U.S. Royalty perform at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. It’s at 6 p.m., and admission is free.
Legendary sax player Benny Golson will be playing at the Bohemian Caverns on U Street Friday and Saturday at 8:30 and 10:30 both nights. Tickets are $35.
Saturday: Let the Choral Arts Society of Washington melt your heart with their family Christmas concert. It’s at 1 p.m. at the Kennedy Center, and tickets start at $15.
The Madison Sounds of Deliverance play in Dupont Circle
Did you love Al Haddad’s article on jazz in DC in our most recent issue? Do you aspire to be just as booted and avoiding of clinkers? Al has generously offered to share his secrets:
Go to www.dcjazz.com and sign up for their weekly email newsletter. You would probably be horrified to discover how much my article owed to this single website.
Been to Adams Morgan? Good job. Now get down to U Street. For fans of live jazz and blues, U Street is to Adams Morgan as Bitches Brew is to Birth of the Cool. Just walk up and down a single block of U Street during the evening and you’re likely to come across three or four poorly-marked venues that are grooving right down to the foundations. You might have to sweet-talk some of the doormen, but believe me, it’s well worth the effort.
Cheap is better, but free is best: The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage has free performances every Friday night. It’s not always jazz, but the acoustics are great and the musicians are always top quality. Check the Kennedy Center website for weekly details.
John Hasse, the Smithsonian’s brilliant and innovative Curator of American Music, has since 2001 conducted a weekly concert series, held each Friday night at 6.30pm at the Smithsonian Jazz Café, located on the ground floor of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. After a summer hiatus, performances start up again Friday, September 6th. The Smithsonian also has an extensive jazz program, as well as some internships for the really zealous among you: check it out at www.smithsonianjazz.org.
Flickr photo from user JamesCalder used under a Creative Commons license