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10 reasons to attend DC Jazz Festival

WASHINGTON — From Duke Ellington to Shirley Horn, D.C. is steeped in jazz history.

That history adds a new chapter as the 13th annual D.C. Jazz Festival returns from June 8-17.

“Why don’t you come on out and discover an artist that you’ve never heard before?” D.C. Jazz Festival executive director Sunny Sumter told WTOP. “Discover the unexpected.”

Here are Sumter’s Top 10 reasons to attend this year’s D.C. Jazz Festival:

1. Dozens of performances

“You can experience dozens of performances,” Sumter said. “I’m talkin’ 100 bands, 300 artists, 40 venues, 22 neighborhoods. It’s a takeover — a jazz takeover in D.C.”

2. Stacked with talent

“I’m talkin’ Leslie Odom Jr. — we know him from ‘Hamilton,'” Sumter said. “Robert Glasper’s supergroup called R+R=NOW, which is jazz-hip hop. We’ve got Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, which is Cuban Music at the Kennedy Center. Ivan Lins & Friends, a baaaaad Brazilian pianist. Maceo Parker from James Brown Funk. Regina Carter, a great violinist. Christian Scott, Ben Williams, Oliver Lake Big Band, Patricia Barber, Frédéric Yonnet.”

3. The Wharf

“You can hear jazz throughout The Wharf, the new hot, happening place in Southwest,” Sumter said. “Not only indoors at The Anthem, but out. We’ve got two big outdoor stages at District Pier and Transit Pier — a floating stage! We also have an indoor jazz band competition free [at] the Hyatt House. [Artists] had to fill out an application earlier in the year, we had semifinals, and we’re down to four finalists from all around the world. They win $15,000!”

4. Kennedy Center

“We are taking over the Kennedy Center,” Sumter said. “We’ve got Millennium Stage free concerts — five of those. Again, we’ve got Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba doing a Cuban piano masters summit. … We’re telling folks from the [recent] Cuban Festival to come back and celebrate with Chucho and Gonzalo. It’s going to be in the concert hall on June 15.”

5. City Winery

“We are going to be in City Winery in Ivy City … where Love & Dream used to be on Okie Street, Northeast off New York Avenue,” Sumter said. “We’re doing eight nights there and we’re very excited. We’ve got Raúl Midón, a guitarist; Patricia Barber for our LGBT community during Capital Pride Week; Ben Williams doing a tribute to our jazz icon who performed with Ella Fitzgerald, the great Keter Betts. We’re doing a tribute to him; he is a Washingtonian.”

6. Jazz in the Hoods

“We want you to check out local spots,” Sumter said. “‘Jazz in the Hoods’ presented by Events D.C. [features] 22 neighborhoods. You can go outside your door, take a short taxi ride, Uber or subway and hear jazz in restaurants, clubs, hotels, galleries, loft spaces. Most events are free [at] Ivy Smoke House, Blues Alley, Twins Jazz, Hamilton Live and Kreeger Museum.”

7. Grammy winners

“You can check out seven Grammy-winning artists,” Sumter said. “We’re doing a tribute to Geri Allen, who is a beloved composer-pianist that graduated from Howard, was a great teacher at Howard and is an iconic jazz legend around the world. She passed away way too early. Terri Lyne Carrington is bringing an amazing group of artists to perform at Sixth & I on June 14.”

8. Hometown heritage

“We have a deep jazz heritage right here in D.C.,” Sumter said. “The legendary Duke Ellington was born here. The U Street Corridor was known as Black Broadway. We have so many jazz artists that are performing along U Street. Go to Twins Jazz and hear some great jazz. It’s the smallest, most gorgeous, up-close-and-front [venue]. You can just sit in the jazz artist’s lap if you want to — that’s how small the place is. Wonderful food. It’s a great hang on U Street.”

9. Phillips Collection

“We’re doing pre-fest fun at the Phillips Collection [with] Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days,” Sumter said. “5,000 people over two days. … Bring your families or make it a date night. We are celebrating jazz and visual arts [with] a petting zoo, arts and crafts, and 12 performances.”

10. Discover the unexpected

“We want you to discover the unexpected,” Sumter said. “Sometimes people say, ‘What is jazz?’ We say that jazz is for everyone. Something under the umbrella: straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz, country jazz, rock jazz, folk jazz, hip-hop jazz. There is something for everybody.”

Find more details on the festival website. Listen to our full chat with Sunny Sumter below:


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