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.”