DC Jazz Fest returns this week at The Wharf


Last year, it was forced to go entirely virtual due to pandemic-related restrictions.

This week, the 17th annual D.C. Jazz Festival returns in person from Wednesday, Sept. 1, to Sunday, Sept. 5.

“We decided this year that we would do a live, in-person celebration at The Wharf, along with a few other venues around the city,” C.E.O. Sunny Sumter told WTOP.

“We’ve planned a tremendous gathering … looking at what’s happening currently with the pandemic, we decided to pull it back, so we are requiring a vaccination card or negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event date.”

After kicking off Wednesday night with a private event at the House of Sweden in Georgetown, the first public performances arrive Thursday at Howard University and Westminster Church.

“We are doing a tribute to Andrew White (featuring Kevin Toney, Steve Novosel, Keith Killgo and Antonio Parker),” Sumter said. “If you saw the ‘Summer of Soul’ movie that Questlove did over the summer, Andrew White was the bass player with Stevie Wonder. He’s from D.C. … we are also having Janell Gill, D.C.’s own, performing at the Kreeger Museum for an afternoon lunch concert.”

Friday brings a special jazz concert at the Phillips Collection.

“Phillips Collection is a longtime partner; we usually do Jazz ‘n’ Families Fun Days in June as part of Kalorama Walk Weekend,” Sumter said. “This September, we are featuring Langston Hughes II, an emerging saxophonist. He just won the Emergency Award here in D.C.”

Saturday brings a bunch of events to three stages at The Wharf.

“Regina Carter is doing A Grand Night of Strings, featuring Jenny Scheinman, The String Queens and Michael Bowie Trio,” Sumter said.

“Maria (Schneider) is bringing her Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestra to The Wharf, Orrin Evans of Philadelphia is bringing a Brazil project, Lakecia Benjamin is doing a tribute to John and Alice Coltrane, Pedrito Martinez is an amazing Cuban percussionist.”

Sunday brings more of the biggest names in jazz to The Wharf.

“I love John Schofield, an amazing Grammy Award-winning guitarist,” Sumter said. “We’re doing a Billy Taylor tribute … the Spanish Harlem Orchestra is coming down from New York, and anybody who came to anything Club Quarantine and checked out D-Nice knows what I’m talking about, he’s going to bring a dance party to the jazz fest closing it out on the 5th.”

It all culminates Sunday with the DCJazzPrix Finals between three international finalists: the Given Gelin Quintet, Camilla George and Dayramir Gonzalez & Habana enTRANCe.

“I can’t imagine who’s going to win,” Sumter said. “They’re from three countries: Cuba, the UK and the Bahamas. They are bringing it. These kids can play. I’m going to be rooting for all of them.”

The goal is to make the nation’s capital a go-to destination for jazz enthusiasts.

“We really have become a jazz takeover in D.C.,” Sumter said. “Two years ago, we had over 80,000 people in just one day. We’ve become a premiere destination for this great music.”


Listen to the full conversation.