Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

3rd Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, Washington, D.C.

David Sanchez

Washington, D.C.’s third annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival celebrated the rich legacy of Dizzy Gillespie, befitting festival producer Charlie Fishman’s late period managerial relationship with Diz. One evening in particular, aptly billed “In the Footsteps of Dizzy,” effectively highlighted Diz the mentor, recalling the master’s multi-culti United Nation Orchestra. Others in that potent assemblage, like the ebullient Paquito D’Rivera who serves as the DEJF artistic advisor, and Flora Purim & Airto Moreira, performed at the festival’s culminating admission-free blowout at the Sylvan Amphitheatre in the prodigious shadow of the Washington Monument. But on a humid Friday evening at the Lincoln Theatre, one of the pillars of the revived and bustling U Street, the final generation of Gillespie acolytes was on vivid display.

That evening opened with the joie de vivre of Danilo Perez (pictured) alone at the piano, accenting his percussive nature by intermittently plucking his instrument’s inner strings. Bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz seamlessly eased in place for a trio deconstruction of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” a gorgeously optimistic vehicle they transformed into a roiling celebration. Hard hands Pernell Saturnino, heir to Chano Pozo, further propelled the trio through some Monk-ish paces. Claudio Roditi, David Sanchez and Steve Turre, three contributors to Gillespie’s UN Orchestra general assembly, lent their robust horns to Dizzy’s signature “Con Alma.” Turre, resplendent in red jacket and matching kicks, augmented his instrument through skillful manipulation of his array of conch shells. Then each horn player was featured separately with the quartet, including a new Perez vehicle for Sanchez that began on unsteady ground then soared once Perez and Sanchez locked into their longstanding simpatico. Roditi’s feature was the lovely samba stroll “The Monster and the Flower.” The septet concluded with a bruising “Algo Bueno,” alter ego to Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n You.”

After intermission, Roy Hargrove’s fresh new quintet responded to the septet’s fiery challenge. In particular, their excitable drummer Montez Coleman muscled and inspired the trumpeter. An especially hip Hargrove original called “Style,” a piece easily transferable to Roy’s groove unit RH Factor, elicited some of the trumpeter’s highest soaring inspiration. Hargrove, perhaps recalling the Adderley Brothers’ sound, tends to favor alto over tenor sax as a frontline mate and Justin Robinson fill the harmonic role quite nicely; mahogany-toned bassist Danton Boller and pianist Gerald Clayton (John’s son) round out this promising quintet. The ever youthful, compact Hargrove, decked out in dark suit and sneaker shod, amply displayed his maturity, blowing blue skies into Johnny Mandel’s “A Time for Love.” If anything, Roy upped the ante on a beautifully paced evening.

Elsewhere, the eight-day festival blessed the National Capitol region with dozens of free performances (including a number of youth-geared programs), panels and clinics at community spaces, museums, plazas, the Hirshhorn Museum sculpture garden and at least one church around town. DEJF also incorporated several area clubs under the festival’s collegial big tent such as Twins Jazz and the revived U Street temple Bohemian Caverns, in a series they dubbed “Jazz in the ‘Hoods” in Fishman’s admirable effort at making the event citywide, which was fitting given the city government’s support.

Several of Dizzy’s NEA Jazz Master cohorts performed at separate events, including the elegant Hank Jones in an intimate evening duet program with budding chanteuse Roberta Gambarini at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. James Moody, Jimmy Heath, festival honoree Clark Terry, Billy Taylor and Slide Hampton leading the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars big band. The event closed with Paquito’s self-styled “Illegal Immigrant Quintet” at the Voice of America auditorium. The band featured such collaborators as Bulgarian keyboardist Milcho Leviev, Czech bassist George Mraz, Russian trumpeter Valery Ponomarev and Paquito’s countryman drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez; each of whose jazz sensibilities were stoked in their formative years from beyond various blackout veils by Willis Conover’s influential VOA jazz broadcasts. Finally DC has a fitting major jazz festival in bloom, one which boasts an impressive international sensibility.

[Photo by Barry Quick]

Originally Published