DC Jazz Fest rocks 12 venues citywide, culminating with weekend at The Wharf

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the DC Jazz Fest (Part 1)

Get ready for five toe-tapping days with 120 concerts in over 12 venues in the nation’s capital.

The 19th annual D.C. Jazz Festival returns this Wednesday, Aug. 30, through Sunday, Sept. 3.

“If you’re looking for something to do over Labor Day weekend, come to D.C. Jazz Fest,” Sunny Sumter, president and CEO of the festival, told WTOP. “We started in 2004 on a paper napkin. I’ve always got to give a ‘thank you’ shoutout to Charles Fishman and his wife Stephanie Peters, who are the founders. … The mission is to celebrate all things jazz. … Jazz is really a thriving art form in D.C. and I would say that we’ve become one of the most important jazz hubs in the country.”

The festival kicks off on Wednesday at Eaton D.C., the Kennedy Center and Embassy of Sweden.

“Kick it off opening day at Eaton D.C. with the Jazz D.C. All Stars,” Sumter said. “Then, go over to Millennium Stage where you can hang out at the Kennedy Center and listen to Ayodele [Owolabi], who has a beautiful voice, you’ve got to hear her if you haven’t checked her out. Opening night is sold out at the House of Sweden with The String Queens. … We’re presenting Sunna Gunnlaugs, this woman is a phenomenal pianist, very accomplished, she’s so incredibly funny.”

It continues Thursday at The Kennedy Center, The Parks at Walter Reed and The Kreeger Museum.

“You definitely want to go see George V. Johnson, another fantastic vocalist at Millennium Stage, he’ll be doing a free concert,” Sumter said. “There is an outdoor free event featuring Alex Hamburger and Jose Luiz Martins. They happen to be married, but they’ll have their own individual sets at The Parks at Walter Reed in Upper Northwest. Then we have EJB’s East Coast All Stars at The Kreeger Museum. … Everybody in town loves Elijah Balbed.”

Thursday also brings live jazz to Takoma Station Tavern, Rhizome D.C. and the Arena Stage theater.

“Corcoran Holt is bringing Marquis Hill, who plays a phenomenal trumpet, he’ll be blowing it up at Takoma Station Tavern,” Sumter said. “If you’re into avant-garde, more free kind of jazz, you want to check out Lisa Sokolov at Rhizome D.C. … Most important is D.C. Jazz Fest at Arena Stage. … That fantastic show is going to feature Benny Green, George Cables, Jazzmeia Horn, Orrin Evans, Shamie Royston, Hope Udobi, Jeff “Tain” Watts and Kris Funn.”

On Friday, the festival heads over the river for the annual Jazz Hop in Historic Anacostia on Good Hope Road, Southeast.

“It’s really become a part of our jazz festival every year and something that I enjoy going to see,” Sumter said. “This year what’s unique is that we’re partnering with them to do Second Line — those of you that know New Orleans know what I’m talking about — Second Line meets go-go! We’re going to bring together the Brass-a-holics with The JoGo Project, as well as other amazing talent, so it really is a fantastic event and it is free.”

Friday also returns to the Kennedy Center and Union Stage, as well as a Grammy winner at The Anthem.

“We have Millennium Stage back with the Landon Paddock Group — he is a fantastic artist,” Sumter said. “Leigh Pilzer is a fantastic horn player, she brings so much life to the instrument, she is bringing her ensemble to Union Stage. … Then we are presenting Gregory Porter! He’s coming to The Anthem and he is amazing! He’s so amazing that, in England, the first family, it’s their favorite artist. [Prince] William loves Gregory Porter and so do we.”

The main event arrives at The Wharf on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.

Saturday’s lineup at The Wharf includes Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble, Charles Lloyd’s Kindred Spirits, Terri Lyne Carrington New Standards, Omar Sosa Quarteto Americanos, Orrin Evans Quintet with Sy Smith, Julieta Eugenio Trio, Isabelle Olivier, Chase Elodia’s Perennials and Veronneau.

Sunday’s lineup at The Wharf includes Samara Joy, Kenny Garrett and Sounds From the Ancestors, Big Chief Donald Harrison and the Dave Holland Trio featuring Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland.

“The Wharf is the tentpole weekend,” Sumter said. “There are three outdoor stages, including a youth stage, there is a DJ late into the evening, there is so much music happening. Every aspect of music is covered over these two days, whether you like gospel jazz, rock, bluegrass, big band, salsa, Cuban music. … There’s so much. It really is a representation of why this music is fantastic and important, because there really is something for everybody.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the DC Jazz Fest (Part 2)

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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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