DC JazzFest takes over Howard Theatre, The Wharf and beyond

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews DC JazzFest (Part 1)

Looking for something fun to do during Labor Day weekend?

Well, the 18th annual DC Jazz Festival running will deliver tons of free live music from Wednesday through Sunday.


Check out the whole DC Jazz Festival lineup here


“We started in 2004 on a paper napkin by our founder, Charlie Fishman, who used to manage Dizzy Gillespie,” Sunny Sumter, President and CEO of DC Jazz Festival told WTOP. “Here we are 18 years later, from 14 concerts in 2004, to over 100 performances around the city … Let’s all get our party on and celebrate, because JazzFest has definitely become a cultural destination.”

The festival kicks off on Wednesday at Howard Theatre with Grammy Award winner Kurt Elling.

“My grandparents talked about going to the Howard to hear Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstine,” Sumter said. “It’s been revitalized now for about a decade, we’re just really amazed that we can do opening night there.

“Kurt Elling is an amazing jazz vocalist. If you have not heard him, you absolutely should go. Tickets are flying.”

Thursday brings “beautiful vocalist” Lena Seikaly at Kreeger Museum, “fantastic guitarist” Paul Bollenback Trio at Takoma Station Tavern, then MacArthur fellow and “fantastic violinist” Regina Carter at Arena Stage, which is the new D.C. Jazz Fest headquarters.



Friday will kick off with the U Street walking tour “Music and Murals of Black Broadway,” followed by The JoGo Project at the Anacostia Big Chair and a sold-out show with Dianne Reeves at Arena Stage.

Then, people can head over to Wild Days at Eaton D.C. to see Matthew Shipp, and jam sessions from Peter Gillon & The Junto Trio and the Julian Berkowitz Trio.

Saturday brings a Roy Hargrove documentary at Arena Stage, as well as the seventh annual DC JazzPrix Finals at Union Stage where three bands compete for $15,000. People can also enjoy live music at The Wharf from 12 to 10 p.m.

“We’ve got three outdoor stages, two indoor stages, including Union Stage and Arena [Stage],” Sumter said. “It’s free and open to the public.”

The Saturday lineup includes Snarky Puppy drummer Larnell Lewis with Trinidadian steel-drummer (and wife) Joy Lapps; salsa dancing with Mambo Legends Orchestra; Chien Chien Lu Quintet from Taiwan; local jazz vocalist Heidi Martin; jazz-gospel band The Baylor Project; the acclaimed Ron Carter; and jazz fusion by Cindy Blackman, who is married to Carlos Santana.

Sunday returns to The Wharf with: Grammy winner Christian McBride, as well as Emmet Cohen (who Sumter calls “the most popular social-media jazz artist in the world”); Cuban band Dayramir Gonzalez & Habana enTRANCE; French band Patrick Zimmerli; and local legends the Chuck Brown Band.

It all closes out with Butcher Brown at 7 p.m. and Aaron Myers at 10 p.m. at Union Stage.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews DC JazzFest (Part 2)

Find more information here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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